234 more inmates freed as Justice chief vows 5,000 to be released by June 2023

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 25 2022 12:18 AM

Remulla pushes for regional jails; no more Bilibid by 2028

MANILA — It was a phone call any inmate would have wanted to make.

“Laya na ako (I’m free!),” inmate “Antonio” told his wife on the other end of the line, his voice breaking as he tried to fight off the sudden rush of emotion that overcame him.

“Hihintayin ko kayo (I will wait for you),” he said. His wife promised to fetch him at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa, where he served time for the past year and 5 months.

Jailed for violating the law against violence on women and children, Antonio vowed things will change the moment he gets home.

“Magbabagong-buhay na po sir, mamahalin ko pamilya ko atsaka asawa ko po,” he said.

(I will live a new life, sir. I will love my family and my life.)

Not far from Antonio is a 74-year-old inmate “Lolo Jose,” who spent almost 7 years behind bars for a homicide conviction.

Seated on a while monobloc chair, he had to be carried by 3 of his fellow-inmates. He has difficulty walking, he said; just a few steps and he could no longer breathe.

His release on Thursday was an answered prayer.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa Panginoon, dininig ‘yung aking panalangin na makalabas nang buhay pa. Para magagayak ko pa yung aking mga apo, mga anak,” he said.

Antonio and Lolo Jose are just two of the more than 200 persons deprived of liberty (PDL) or inmates released by the Justice department and the Corrections bureau on Thursday.

Of the 234 inmates released, 128 were jailed at the NBP facility itself in Muntinlupa, while the rest came from prisons in Davao, Leyte, Zamboanga, Occidental Mindoro and Palawan.

Twenty-one inmates were women, like Gina, who was convicted of estafa and falsification of documents.

Estranged from her children, she hopes to begin again.

“Sobrang thankful ako kay God. Hindi ko po alam kung anong gagawin po pero alam ko na gusto ko na po talaga magbago at panghahawakan ko na po talaga ito kasi binigyan na po ako uli ng isang chance,” she said.

More than a hundred of those released have been granted parole while a hundred more have served their maximum sentence after applying good conduct time allowances.

Some 728 inmates were earlier released by the DOJ and BuCor in the first few months of the new administration.

That’s on top of the 300 inmates still waiting for an executive clemency from the President.

But for Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, more needs to be done to facilitate decongestion of jails.

“Ito ay pang-apat na pagkakataon na ako ay nagpunta rito upang magpalaya ng ating mga PDL. Sinabi ko sa United Nations na pagdating ho ng June, mahigit limang libo na ang ating pakakawalan sa PDL natin sa buong Pilipinas,” he said in his speech as guest of honor in what the BuCor dubbed as the “culminating activity” for the inmates.

Remulla told inmates in jest: “Sana ito na ang huli nating pagkikita dito sa Muntinlupa. Huwag na kayong babalik dito.”

(I hope this is the last time we see each other in Muntinlupa. Don’t come back here.)

REMULLA: NO MORE BILIBID BY 2028

In fact, if the Justice secretary would have it his way, he said doesn’t want to see a megaprison like Bilibid by 2028, at the end of the Marcos administration.

“Ang ambisyon ko talaga, kung tutuusin ninyo, na pagdating ho ng 2028 wala na ho tayo rito sa Muntinlupa. Sana po ang mga piitan ay sa iba’t ibang lugar na sa Pilipinas kung saan malapit sa pamilya yung mga masesentensiyahan, mahahatulan ng korte,” he said, as he reiterated his push for the regionalization of prison facilities.

Regionalization of prisons, he said, would solve the problem of families from the provinces having a hard time visiting their loved ones in prison in Muntinlupa City in the National Capital Region.

It would also make running the prison facility easier, he had said in past interviews.

With more than 28,000 inmates, the NBP is among the largest prisons in the world and has a congestion rate of 344%, making it a breeding ground for corruption and crimes.

The killing of radio commentator Percy Lapid was allegedly planned within Bilibid while one of the alleged middleman in his killing, inmate Jun Villamor, died in the hands of fellow-inmates inside Bilibid’s maximum security compound.

Aside from this issue, the presence of contrabands and animals inside NBP was uncovered, while more than a hundred cadavers left unclaimed were discovered at a funeral home in Muntinlupa City.

There is also the issue of a mysterious pit allegedly used for treasure hunting.

CHALLENGES TO PUTTING UP REGIONAL JAILS

But creating regional jails and relocating existing inmates pose some challenges.

An initial step planned by the DOJ to create a “supermax” facility in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro which would house 2,000 Bilibid inmates currently house in its maximum security compound would require P4 billion.

In comparison, the budget for the entire BuCor for 2022 is only P5.2 billion and it is asking for P5.9 billion for 2023, the biggest among the agencies attached to the DOJ.

But Remulla, a three-term House representative who left a fourth term to serve as DOJ chief, said he is confident Congress is studying the plan seriously.

JOINT VENTURE AGREEMENT

A prior effort by suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag to enter into a joint venture agreement (JVA) with private corporation Agua Tierra Oro Mina Development Corporation (ATOM Corp.) hit a snag when Justice officials objected to the project primarily because Bantag did not obtain prior consent from the DOJ and the Office of the President.

Under the deal, ATOM Corp. would donate 234 hectares of land to BuCor and put up buildings to relocate more than 28,000 PDLs of the NBP and more than 3,000 inmates of the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW).

In exchange, the company will develop the 375-hectare NBP Reservation in Muntinlupa City into a commercial, residential and industrial area.

The revenue would be split between the two — 65 percent to ATOM Corp. and 35 percent to BuCor.

Remulla said that as early as the term of former Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, his predecessor, Bantag was already informed about a memorandum recommending the deal’s disapproval, even as Virgilio Bote, president of ATOM Corp., on Wednesday told ABS-CBN News that he was never informed about the disapproval and was in fact still waiting if the DOJ and the President would approve the deal.

Aside from the deal not supposedly going through the proper channels, Remulla had said the JVA would have meant simply transferring a megaprison to another place, without solving congestion and all the problems that come with it.

Bote eventually withdrew his donation upon Remulla’s advice. ATOM Corp. also withdrew its proposed JVA.

In the same interview Wednesday, Bote said he is willing to donate 200 hectares of land in Nueva Ecija to house a regional jail without any conditions, but Remulla said he wants a formal proposal.

“Alam mo it has to be in writing. ‘Pag wala kasi in writing, wala tayo magagawa. All of these things, ‘pag kwento lang ay wala tayong magagawa. Put it in writing and we will act on it,” he said.

As government officials deliberate plans to ease congestion in jails and address crime and corruption within the penal system, thousands more inmates await for their turn to be released from what observers call the hellhole that is Bilibid.

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