MANILA, Philippines - Prisoners enjoying VIP treatment at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) maximum security compound are now "a thing of the past," an official said yesterday.
In response to allegations by the group Bilibid Atin Ito, NBP superintendent Fajardo Lansangan told The STAR that the maximum security compound – which currently houses 14,500 convicts – is no longer a “padlocked facility” but a “rehabilitation community” meant to prepare the prisoners for their reintegration into mainstream society.
According to Bilibid Atin Ito, some Chinese prisoners enjoy large, air-conditioned cells or kubol with hot and cold water on tap. These cells are equipped with 42-inch televisions, laptop computers and Wi-Fi connection.
They also reportedly enjoy the use of scooters, golf carts, two-way radios and bodyguards.
The group also said that the trade in illegal drugs, guns and prostitution as well as “extortion, suspicious deaths of inmates and protection of inmate killers are what is presently happening in this (compound).”
A convicted robbery gang leader was also allegedly given the privilege of staying in a big kubol, with a cook, a waiter and bodyguards after he donated money to upgrade the NBP Hospital, the group said.
Lansangan said the prisoners in the maximum security compound now live in dormitory-style buildings and can move around the compound during the day. There are no longer free-standing kubols, he added.
“The so-called VIP prisoners (are) a thing of the past. Today, every inmate can avail (themselves of) necessities and they enjoy certain rights while serving their prison term,” he said.
Lansangan said ailing inmates may have air-conditioning units installed, provided they pay for the electric bills. Television sets are also allowed, he said, adding that they “cannot deprive the inmates” of the chance to “know what is happening outside” the prison.
He said the NBP has installed cell phone signal jammers to bar inmates from using cell phones smuggled into the prison and closed-circuit television cameras to monitor activities in the compound.
Lansangan said some inmates tried to smuggle weapons and illegal drugs but most of the contraband had been intercepted.
“The interception of contraband is a regular activity,” he said.
Lansangan also explained that the violent incidents in the maximum security compound are due to “misunderstandings among inmates” and that dormitory leaders now hold regular dialogues among warring groups to prevent riots.
He also belied reports that a convicted robbery gang leader was given special treatment after he donated P1.2 million to upgrade the NBP Hospital. The improvement of the hospital was funded by a donation from the International Red Cross, according to Lansangan.
He went on to claim that as a government facility, no construction or improvement can be done without proper documentation and bidding.
Lansangan said the compound is overcrowded, with 1,000 inmates staying in a dormitory meant for 240 persons.
“We are also undermanned, with a ratio one jail guard for every 62 inmates,” he said.