MANILA – Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Wednesday underscored the need to reform the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) amid the continued crimes inside the national penitentiary.
According to Remulla, more than 400 inmates have escaped the facility in the past 40 years, blaming the proximity of NBP to the community, which has easy access to public transportation.
"Kung hindi po natin ililipat ang mga tao sa malayong lugar ay hindi po natin [maaayos] ang problema rito,” Remulla told the Senate Justice panel.
Among the considerations, he said, is to transfer minimum security inmates at a Nueve Ecija facility.
The government is also looking at constructing a new jail facility in Mindoro province, specifically on government property that is between 8 to 10-hectares.
“Doon kasi maaari silang ma-rehabilitate, maaring makabalik sila sa lipunan, sapagkat malaki po ang lupang sakahin doon. Kung masanay sila na mamuhay nang mapayapa, na magtatanim po ng mga halaman, mag-alaga ng hayop, puwede pang makatulong sa food security ng ating bansa,” Remulla said.
However, Sen. Robin Padilla cautioned against the negative effects of transferring inmates in far-flung areas, away from their families.
“Yoong rehabilitation natin at doon sa parte ng rehabilitation na kasama ang kanilang pamilya. Kung masyado po nating ilalayo sila, hindi po kaya mahirapan ang ating rehabilitation?” Padilla said.
Padilla has filed a bill seeking to "regionalize" NBP.
Padilla served time in the NBP for several years due to illegal possession of firearms in the 1990s.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, meanwhile, proposed a “state-of-the-art maximum security prison.”
“If a maximum security prison be built, then make it world-class in the sense that the security features in that prison should be modern. It should contain all components of a maximum security prison designed in the year 2022. But I believe that there should only be one since it would be impractical to regionalize a state-of-the-art maximum security prison,” Pimentel stressed.
Remulla said NBP’s Maximum Security Compound is now home to 17,000 inmates, way beyond its capacity that is only good for 7,000 people.
OTHER LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
For the DOJ's legislative agenda, Remulla said he is looking forward to seeing the law that would mandate the modernization of the Bureau of Immigration, which is being governed by a 1935 law.
The Witness Protection Program (WPP) must also be expanded and be made available in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Remulla is also looking to amend the mandate of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).
“To include the Forfeited Management Assets Office, as we have no central office that handles forfeited assets subject to court cases and other proceedings before that are here in our legal system. Such proceedings include reversion of lands to the government of private lands which are violative of the Constitution and other laws,” he pointed out.
Sen. Sonny Angara quizzed Remulla about the status of former Sen. Leila de Lima’s cases, given the interest being shown to her status by members of the international community.
“When I meet with ambassadors, I‘ve met with around four ambassadors and at least half of them always ask about the cases against former Senator Leila De Lima. I don’t really know what to say because I don’t know what stage these cases are. But I guess, what I do wanted to do is give an assurance that these cases are moving and the wheels of justice are grinding in whatever direction they may lead,” Angara asked.
Remulla said: “Right now, there’s one case that is already in the presentation of defense evidence. There’s one case, also a drug-related case that is almost being terminated with regard in the presentation of the prosecution evidence. And there has been a dismissal of a contempt charge and another dismissal was reported to us, but I’m not sure of the case itself.”
Angara then asked Remulla’s written report regarding the cases lodged against De Lima and the status of each case.
Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, meanwhile, thanked Remulla for coming out with a strong stand against the Philippines’ rejoining of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Dela Rosa comes second to former President Rodrigo Duterte in the list of charged individuals in the “war against drugs” case lodged before the ICC.
“It may be self-serving… I can’t help but appreciate government officials with balls,” Dela Rosa said.