DoJ exec ‘discovers’ Bilibid’s open secret: Rich are VIPs | Inquirer News

DoJ exec ‘discovers’ Bilibid’s open secret: Rich are VIPs

MANILA, Philippines—The “open secret” is unraveling at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, head of the fact-finding panel looking into the “prison break” of former Batangas Governor Antonio Leviste, yesterday expressed dismay over the “inhuman conditions” of the poor and the “comfortable” kubol (quarters) of the rich in the state penitentiary.

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“Money and political influence are still being used to be in a better situation than the others,” Baraan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “Drastic changes should be [made] there.”

Baraan, who led the panel formed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in an inspection of the NBP to “determine whether the caper of Mr. Leviste was not the first time,” also listed “disturbing” lapses in the security arrangements.

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He noted the possibility of connivance between inmates and guards, the too-few guards at the perimeter, and the lack of equipment that could explain how Leviste was able to leave the 536-hectare compound without a permit on May 18.

“There are weak points in the security measures of Bilibid,” Baraan said. “The privileges given to Leviste are evidence of the great divide between the rich and poor inmates.”

No CCTV cameras

The panel inspected the gates leading to the NBP where, Baraan noted, there were no closed-circuit TV cameras or even logbooks to record the vehicles coming in and going out of the compound.

He said the three gates might not be sufficiently monitored by the guards.

“Ex-Governor Leviste used his vehicle to get out of the prison compound … The question is: How was [Leviste] able to get out despite the fact that the three gates have guards?” Baraan said.

Ramon Reyes, the NBP’s chief superintendent, denied that his guards had been negligent. He said that given the resources of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), he would describe the security coverage as “moderately strict.”

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“We are not easy-going in our security duties,” he said.

When asked why walls could not be built for added security, Reyes said millions of pesos would be wasted because the NBP planned to eventually transfer to Taytay, Rizal.

Teodora Diaz, NBP assistant director for rehabilitation and administration, said the transfer plan was announced through Proclamation No. 1158 issued in 2004 but it never took off.

The proclamation allocates 270 hectares of land in Barangay Cuyambay in Tanay as the new site of the state penitentiary.

In addition to the lack of security fence around the NBP compound, Baraan said the low-cost housing project of the National Housing Authority made it harder for prison guards to check the people going in and out of the state penitentiary.

“Where in the world can you find a state prison where convicts and ordinary people roam around freely? Worse, passenger jeepneys and private vehicles are also allowed to enter the NBP without being checked,” he said.

Complete with appliances

Baraan said that while lowly inmates of the NBP’s maximum-security compound were staying in cramped cells “like sardines,” the wealthy prisoners had built their own quarters complete with appliances such as electric fans and water coolers.

“They even have their own electric meters. They have beds …” he said.

Baraan said most of the quarters inspected by the fact-finding panel were occupied by Chinese nationals convicted of drug charges.

An inmate had earlier told the Inquirer that prisoners who wanted to own a kubol would have to pay as much as P50,000 to NBP officials and gang mayores (leaders).

Baraan said the panel also visited the hut where Leviste was staying prior to his arrest in Makati City on May 18. It is located outside the minimum-security facility and near a tree-planting site that Leviste was sponsoring.

The hut has electrical installations, suggesting the use of appliances, and a well-maintained bathroom with running water connected from a small water tank outside.

“[Leviste] enjoys not only ‘living out’ but also ‘sleeping out’ privileges. He has his own hut. Actually, it looks like a resort house while common prisoners are congested in small cells,” Baraan said.

He said Leviste was granted the “sleeping out” privilege—meaning sleeping outside the minimum-security facility—by then BuCor Director Oscar Calderon.

Back to the usual

Baraan said Rolito Go, who was sentenced to life for killing college student Eldon Maguan in a fit of road rage, had been staying in a similar cottage.

He said that after Leviste’s arrest, BuCor Director Ernesto Diokno suspended the “living-out” status enjoyed by Leviste, Go and over 100 other inmates.

“We were told that Go and the other prisoners were ordered to go back to the maximum- and minimum-security compounds,” he said.

Baraan said five other inmates had also been allowed their own huts by previous prison officials.

“In fairness to Director Diokno, that system was already there before he came in. But just the same, reforms should be put in place, specially in the maximum and minimum prison areas,” Baraan said.

According to Diaz, “living out” inmates may move around the NBP compound starting at 6 a.m. But they should report to their custodians for the head count at 6 p.m. If they fail to do so, they are declared “missing” and will be moved to maximum security when found.

Good character, etc.

Diaz said not all “living out” inmates had the “sleeping out” privilege.

She said that of the 408 inmates in the minimum-security facility who were granted “living out” status, only 109 could “sleep out.”

Diaz said inmates proven to have good character and the financial capacity to build their own shelters could apply for the benefit.

“The assumption here is that they are about to leave the compound. So why should they do anything to jeopardize that shot to freedom by [violating the rules]?” she said.

The “sleeping out” privilege is given to prisoners who are visibly handicapped, at least 65 years old, have a year left to serve or have served more than half of their prison sentence, Diaz said.

Baraan wondered why Leviste, 70, was given this privilege simply because of his age, even when he still had a long time to serve in his homicide sentence.

He said he would recommend to De Lima to revise the rules for granting “living out” privileges.

“Only those who are to be released within a year should be made ‘living out’ inmates. In that way, they can prepare for their eventual reassimilation into mainstream society,”  he said.

Baraan also said the BuCor should be more circumspect in granting “living out” privileges to convicts who could finance community projects, like Leviste’s own project to plant a billion trees.

“Projects that require funding obviously discriminate against poor inmates who cannot pursue similar endeavors,” he said, adding:

“Something has to be done immediately to make sure prisoners are treated equally behind the prison walls. Instituting reforms should be a challenge to all of us.”

Monday hearing

Baraan said Leviste had promised to testify at the fact-finding panel’s first hearing on Monday.

The fact-finding panel is composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Dacanay as chair, and National Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director for intelligence services Ruel Lasala and state counsels Wilberto Tolito and Charlene Mae Tapic as members.

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TAGS: Antonio Leviste, Bureau of Corrections, Department of Justice, DoJ, National Bilibid Prison, NBP, Prisons
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