MANILA - A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a bill that would transfer the management of provincial jails to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) to "professionalize" the system and allow local governments to use their funds for other projects.
Under the current law, the BJMP is in charge of city, municipal and district jails, while the provincial government handles provincial and sub-provincial prisons.
"Makakatulong talaga ito sa pag-professionalize ng ating jail system... They (provincial governments) would like to use their resources elsewhere para makatipid din sila," said Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the co-authors of the measure.
(This will really help in professionalizing our jail system... Provincial government would also like to use their resources elsewhere so they can save.)
"Importante na mailipat din 'yung resources na 'yan to anti-poverty measures, to infrastructure," said the senator, whose father is the current governor of Bukidnon.
(It is also important to transfer those resources to anti-poverty measures, to infrastructure.)
Surigao del Sur Governor Alexander "Ayec" Pimentel backed Zubiri's statement, saying the transfer of prisoners from one facility to another is difficult when correctional institutions are managed by different government agencies.
"Sa totoo lang, kami sa Surigao del Sur nahihirapan na. Kulang kami sa armas. Wala din kaming sasakyan," he told the Senate committees on local government and public order and dangerous drugs in a hearing.
(To tell you the truth, we are having a very hard time in Surigao del Sur. We lack weapons. We also don't have vehicles.)
Agusan del Sur Governor Santiago Cane said he has been waiting for the passage of this measure "for the longest time."
"Nung dumating yung COVID-19, ang pinakauna kong concern ay 'yung provincial jail namin dahil it has already doubled its capacity," Cane said.
(When COVID-19 came, my first concern was our provincial jail because it has already doubled its capacity.)
An association of provincial jail wardens opposed the proposal, Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs chair Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa said in a statement.
The group did not send a representative to the hearing but expressed dissent through a position paper, Dela Rosa said.
"Ito siguro 'yung mga nathre-threaten din na mawalan ng trabaho... We understand their plight," he said.
(Maybe these are the ones who are threatened because they might lose their jobs... We understand their plight.)
The BJMP committed to "absorb" qualified provincial jail officials, while some governors said they were open to hiring some jail guards in their province's security teams.
Details of the transfer of both employees and equipment will be threshed out in a technical working group meeting, Dela Rosa said.
Under the Senate's rules, the bill transferring the control of provincial jails to the BJMP needs to hurdle plenary debates and the period of amendments.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, which supervises the BJMP, earlier expressed support for the measure.
The approval of the bill at the committee level comes as the national government looks for ways to decongest jails during the COVID-19 pandemic to curb the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities and prisons, where inmates cannot afford to observe proper physical distancing.