By Raymund Narag | Published: November 18, 2020
Probation officers play a significant role in the Philippine Criminal Justice System (PCJS).
They supervise individuals who had been given a sentence of six years and below in the community, provided that they are first-time offenders, had no derogatory records in the community, and they had been assessed as low risk of reoffending.
The probation officers make sure that their clients adhere to their conditions of probation, that they do not commit new offenses, and become responsible members of the community.
98% Success Rate
Overall, the probation officers do a great job monitoring and mentoring their clients.
The official success rate is quite very high at 98 percent, with only 2 percent of the probationers going back to jails and prisons, either due to the commission of new offense or due to technical revocations.
However, since the Supreme Court allowed plea bargaining in drug cases in the Estipona vs Lobrigo case in 2017, the number of eligible probation applicants has ballooned.
One probation officer reported that prior to the plea bargain of drug cases, she received five to eight cases a MONTH, now she receives four to 10 cases a DAY.
The increase in caseload since 2017 has translated to numerous detrimental individual, organizational, and criminal justice outcomes.
Individually, probation officers had been overworked, and their mental and physical health had been compromised.
Organizationally, there are delays in the submission of investigation reports (abetted also by the delay in the issuances of NBI clearance which is an important document needed for the report) where it can take them as long as six months to a year to complete it.
The COVID-19 Factor
In terms of criminal justice outcomes, many of the Persons Deprived of Liberty who pled guilty end up serving their sentences without the benefit of probation supervision, which eventually increase their risks of rearrest or reoffending.
These conditions had been exacerbated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the country in the beginning of 2020.
Probation officers had difficulty visiting the clients at home or in the jail; transportation costs had also become much more expensive, and other concerns.
Despite these structural conditions, the probation officers gallantly and tirelessly work to meet their deadlines.
They developed multiple coping mechanisms to address their situations.
They coordinate with the barangay and city officials, maximize the support of Volunteer Probation Assistants (VPAs) and utilize the social media to connect and monitor the clients.
They also work more than 40 hours a week (free of overtime pay) and spend their own personal resources for transportation and to support the crisis needs of the clients (food, medicine, clothing,etc).
In fact, they subsidize the government from their own personal pockets.
In other instances, some probation officers feel like they are mendicants as they try to solicit resources from the local government units, non-governmental organizations, and other socio-civic groups for financial assistance, not for themselves, but for their clients.
They also develop personal relationships with their clients, thus humanizing their contacts, which is a key to built trust.
The Filipino culture of hiya is also at play.
Probationers report that the reason why do not want to commit a new crime is because: “ayaw nilang ipahiya ang kanilang probation officer.”
Thus, despite the structural deficits, a professional and caring relationship emerges that shields the clients from the challenges of reintegrating to the community.
Yet, the way to maximize the heroic efforts of the probation officers is to increase their number, improve their pay, and provide resources to the agency.
There Ought To Be A Law
Congress must pass a law expanding the plantilla positions in the Parole and Probation Administration.
With the present number of clients under investigation and supervision, we need to quadruple the number of probation officers, especially in the big cities and urban areas.
The national government must also provide resources for rehabilitation and reintegration programs.
Having an expanded probation office is cost effective in the long run.
It is way cheaper and more effective to supervise a low-risk first-time offender in the community than in jail or prison.
Currently, there are thousands of persons deprived of liberty languishing in the jails and draining the government of resources for food alone.
Savings from food expenses of PDLs can cover up the number of new probation officers.
The Parole and Probation Administration officers are silently carrying the burden of the Drug War that had been waged since 2016.
We never heard them complain.
And despite the government induced limitations, they had been doing a great job.
It is high time we notice their plight.