The government may opt to reconsider its decision to abandon the construction of state-of-the-art prison facility inside the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija to address the age-old jail congestion in the country, Senator Leila M. de Lima said.
De Lima a former justice secretary, reiterated her call as she insisted that the continuing severe jail congestion is the root cause of the many ills besetting the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), including prison-based criminality, corruption, disease and deaths.
“Instead of a retrogressive and knee-jerk mindset of re-asserting the outdated retributive system, it would be well for our policymakers to seriously and urgently provide the needed wherewithal to fully effectuate the noble aims of restorative justice,” she said in her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 617.
“Prison reforms, medium-term and long-term, and not just stop gap measures like appointment of new officials and relieve or reshuffling of personnel and prison guards, ought to be a top priority, in terms of focus and budgetary allocations,” she added.
The country is plagued with the jail problems that placed the inmates’ health and lives in danger and led to more crimes involving Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) and their enablers, including the abuse of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law.
The Aquino administration initiated the plan to transfer the NBP and the Correctional Institution for Women to the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija and create a state-of-the-art facility there through the Public-Private Partnership under the Build-Transfer-Maintain scheme.
“The private partner would finance, detail-design, construct and procure security equipment and turn-over to the BuCor (Bureau of Correction) the facility after the three (3)-year construction period but continuing to maintain its structural and technical facets for the next 20 years,” De Lima recalled.
“The government, through the DOJ and BuCor, on the other hand, would maintain the operational custodial and reformation services of the institution. BuCor could focus on its core tasks – the safekeeping and rehabilitation of inmates,” she added.
At the time of the exit of the Aquino Administration in June 2016, the milestone project had already reached the pre-qualification stage whereby three (3) major bidders have already pre-qualified. While initially open to the project, the Duterte government, however, has aborted the planned jail construction project. Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II reasoned out that the plan was aborted because “the cost and transfer of the building is too high” and “not practical.”
When the project to transfer the site was hatched, De Lima said the Aquino administration envisioned the classification and segregation of inmates based on properly assessed needs and risks, thereby separating heinous crime convicts from the rest of the inmates and restricting them inside tightly-secured special facilities.
“But all these remain a dream, so elusive, creating mounting deep and complex problems,” she lamented.
Yet, following the GCTA and other BuCor anomalies, De Lima said she is “glad that the hearts and minds of our lawmakers are now being opened to the stark reality that, on account of decades-old neglect and apathy, our correctional institutions have not lived up, in palpably upsetting degree, to the concept of rehabilitation.”
To introduce comprehensive reforms in the country’s prison and correctional systems, De Lima filed Senate Bill (SB) Nos. 180 and 181, to be known as “Prison Reform Act of 2019,” and the “Unified Corrections and Jail Management System Act of 2019,” respectively, this 18th Congress.
SB No. 180 seeks to institutionalize prison reform and restorative justice in the country’s correctional system to ensure the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates while SB No. 181 seeks to unify corrections and management system by centralizing the management of all prisons and jails under a single government authority.