70 prisoners escape every year

By Marvin Sy, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 30 2012 01:44 AM | Updated as of Aug 30 2012 09:44 AM

MANILA, Philippines - An average of 60 to 70 inmates are able to bolt prison every year and “kidnappings” of relatives of rich prisoners are not unusual, officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said Wednesday.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on finance on the proposed P38.9-billion budget of the Department of Justice and its attached agencies for 2013, the escape or kidnapping of convicted killer Rolito Go came up during the review of the BuCor’s proposed P16.9-billion budget.

Drilon reminded the BuCor that a commitment was made by its leadership last year to address the issue of “prisoners by day and killers by night” or in the case of Go, “kidnappers by night.”

The case of Go, who was recently reported as having escaped or based on his claim, was kidnapped, brought to fore the deficiencies in the security of the vast New Bilibid Prison (NBP) facility in Muntinlupa City.

The NBI conducted the investigation of the case of Go and the probe is still ongoing, according to its director Nonnatus Rojas.

Rojas disclosed that the NBI has determined that there is an “apparent truth” to the claim of kidnapping by Go and so pursuit operations are underway against the possible perpetrators.

Finance committee chairman Sen. Franklin Drilon expressed concern about the case of Go and asked Rojas if abductions of prisoners happen on a regular basis.

Rojas said the case of Go should not be treated as a usual occurrence because he was abducted outside of the minimum security area of the NBP.

Rojas said that there are reports of abductions reaching his office but these do not take place within the NBP compound and the victims are mostly the relatives or visitors of the wealthy inmates.

He said that the kidnappings occur outside of the NBP compound and most of the victims were the wives of Chinese drug lords.

“The abduction is actually those involving relatives or visitors. Based on our initial report, some of the visitors, especially of the wealthy ones inside (prison), there are reports that they are abducted after they visit the inmate,” Rojas said.

Sen. Loren Legarda said that any abduction involving inmates should be considered as an escape from prison.

Asked by Drilon about how many prisoners manage to escape every year, BuCor assistant director Teodora Diaz said that an average of 60 to 70 are recorded annually.

From January to June this year alone, Diaz said that a total of 41 escapees have been recorded.

In the last five years, an estimated 300 inmates were able to escape from prison, of which 224 have been recovered.

This means that there are still 76 inmates still at large, including the 41 that escaped this year.

‘Develop regional prison facilities’

Meanwhile, Drilon called on the BuCor to expedite its development of regional prison facilities in order to free up the NBP in Muntinlupa City for its eventual privatization.

The calls for BuCor to relocate the state-run penitentiary out of Metro Manila have been going on for some time already and were reiterated by several senators yesterday.

“We have the most expensive prison system probably in this part of the world. Our Muntinlupa prison system stands on a property that is worth $1 billion (P42 billion),” said Drilon.

Drilon noted that the BuCor has hundreds of hectares in land assets but the income that it generates from the use of these is very minimal.

Assistant director Diaz said that the bureau currently has agreements with Korean electronics giant Samsung and the Tagum Development Co. in Davao, which generate annual revenues of P700,000 and P60 million, respectively.

Diaz said that BuCor is currently looking for more investors to generate more revenue from its land assets.

Drilon said that it would be best to privatize the NBP in order to utilize this asset better.

Apart from generating more revenues for the government, the efforts to move the inmates out of NBP are also meant to help their rehabilitation.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said that studies have been made showing that the rehabilitation of inmates was more effective when they have regular visits from relatives or friends.

Sotto supported moves to develop regional prison facilities in order to give relatives of the inmates, particularly those based in the Visayas and Mindanao, easier access.

Drilon said that there is every indication that regionalization of the prison system must be implemented to decongest the existing prisons, freeing up the NBP as a valuable asset and to enhance the efforts to rehabilitate the inmates.

The BuCor currently has a regional prison in Leyte, which could serve as the central facility for the Visayas region.

Parole and Pardon Administration head Manuel Co noted that the Leyte regional facility currently has a capacity of 456 while the actual prison population is 1,603.

However, it was revealed that the property on which the Leyte facility stands has a total land area of 861 hectares.

With such a huge property, Drilon said that this should be considered as the regional prison for Visayas.

Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III said that there are plans to transfer the NBP to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija to serve as the regional facility for Luzon.

He said that the Camp Peralta in Capiz is also being considered for prisoners in the Visayas region.

“There is a renewed call for the regionalization of prison system. Our inmate population is 36,295 as of 2011. The capacity of our existing prison system is 17,719 prisoners,” Drilon said.