BY JAIME PILAPIL
UNKNOWN to many and before the Leviste caper, the Bureau of Corrections had submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate a proposed modernization law that will address problems being encountered by BuCor, including graft and corruption.
BuCor also had submitted to President Benigno Aquino 3rd a draft of an executive order that will pave the way for complete rehabilitation of existing national penitentiaries and creation of three more state prisons.
Superintendent Francisco Abunales, the head of BuCor’s reengineering office, on Wednesday said that his group has been holding meetings with congressmen Rolando Andaya of Camarines Sur and Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila) and Sen. Francis Escudero, who will be principal authors of the new law.
Also a draft “Memorandum for the President” had been prepared to be signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Abunales added.
He said that the proposed modernization documents were being pushed by BuCor Director Ernesto Diokno, who is on official leave pending results of the Leviste probe.
BuCor was saddled with controversies after homicide convict and former Gov. Jose Antonio Leviste of Batangas was caught unguarded in Makati City (also in Metro Manila) on May 18.
It turned out that Leviste left the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City without proper permit.
Abunales said that once the modernization law was approved and its provisions implemented, Leviste-like incidents would never happen.
According to him, the meager salaries of BuCor personnel deserve to be immediate addressed by the government.
The lowest-ranking employee— clerk— receives P3,000 monthly salary, while the lowest-ranking— guard—receives a P7,000 monthly pay.
BuCor’s yearly budget is P1.4 billion compared to the P4-billion budget of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).
BuCor has been existing for more than 100 years, while BJMP was only created 18 years ago.
Abunales said that the P1.4 billion is not even enough for the salaries of 2,362 employees and decent food rationing for 35,400 inmates, scattered in seven penal farms and colonies all over the country.
Of the 2,362 employees, 1,328 are custodial personnel and 1,034 are civilian employees, with a prison guard-to-inmate ratio of 1:27, and is continuously increasing at an average rate of five percent every year.
“BJMP is adding 500 new jail guards every year, but we here in BuCor, we are not recruiting, not even one additional guard.” Abunales said.
Another big problem is congestion.
Abunales said that included in the proposed moderization law is the establishment of three more facilities, one in Nueva Ecija, another one in Lucena City (Quezon) and one more in Mindanao.
Because of inadequate personnel and facilities, segregation scheme of inmates has been limited to only three categories—maximum, medium and minimum—instead of crime committed as practiced in developed countries.
BuCor at present lacks modern security equipment such as surveillance cameras, hand-held radios, firearms and X-ray scanners.
Under the proposed modernization law, its manpower will increase gradually to 6,000 in five years.
Custodial guards’ ranking will be patterned after that of BJMP with corresponding salary grades.
Also around P2 billion will be spent in five years to improve equipment and facilities, including acquisition of CCTV and X-ray scanners.
To support the director, two more assistants will be appointed, bringing the number of assistant directors to three—for administration, for operations and security and for reformation.
Abunales said that the modernization plan also proposes construction of a new building to house the offices of BuCor.
“At present, people mistake BuCor for the NBP because the bureau is housed at the NBP building. This creates confusion. BuCor should supervise the NBP. It should leave to the superintendent the running of the daily affairs of the NBP,” he pointed out.
True enough, once an incident happens at the NBP, Bucor officials, particularly the director, is blamed instead of the NBP superintendent.
BuCor has seven operating units located nationwide: New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City; Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City (also in Metro Manila) and the CIW Mindanao, Panabo, Davao; Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan; Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro; San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City; Leyte Regional Prison in Abuyog, Leyte; and Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Panabo, Davao.
The Old Bilibid Prisons, which is located on Oroquieta Street in Santa Cruz, Manila, was established in 1847.
The Bureau of Prisons was created under the Reorganization Act of 1905.
The New Bilibid Prisons was established in 1935 in Muntinlupa to cope with the rising number of prisoners.
The Administrative Code of 1987 and Proclamation 495 changed the agencies’ name to Bureau of Corrections.
BY JAIME PILAPIL