THE Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is not about to give up on its plan to build a new national penitentiary complex in the upland portion of Baras town in Rizal Province.
But instead of a secluded penitentiary facility, Bucor just might establish a communal settlement where convicts who are close to completing their jail time would be made to plant hybrid rice, vegetables and high-value crops to help the administration in its food security program.
According to BuCor Director General Gregorio Catapang, what they intend to do is transform lands awarded to BuCor into communal settlements in which the wealth will be shared, and the profits reinvested to sustain the program.
The BuCor chief particularly hinted at replicating what they have done at the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa, Palawan where detainees are planting hybrid rice as part of the Reformation Initiative for Sustainable Environment for Food Security (RISE).
Under the program, Catapang cited the need to rehabilitate inmates by making them productive as farmers can become the template for food sufficiency in the country’s communities, like the kibbutz system in Israel.
BuCor Titled Land
Bucor owns a 270-hectare land in Baras town’s upland area that is being claimed by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. and the Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation.
According to Catapang, BuCor is the legal owner of the land, citing Proclamation 1158 issued in September 2006 by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in anticipation of the bureau’s future need to expand in view of the rapidly-growing population at the NBP in Muntinlupa City
“The 270 hectares of land awarded to BuCor pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 1158 as the site of the New Bilibid Prison will no longer be pushed through… but what we have deployed BuCor personnel who are temporarily serving as forest rangers.”
He added that the BuCor has tapped experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) and its own agro-forest team to study and assess the environmental impact of constructing a multi-use property in the reserve.
Taking cue from the first Kibbutz that was established in 1909, Catapang said that Bucor has developed a local version where prisoners would be tapped to form a society in which people live in accordance with a specific social contract, based on egalitarian and communal principles in a social and economic framework.
To start off, BuCor has turned an idle portion of its 40 hectare Iwahig Prison in Puerto Princesa into rice fields where some 200 detainees will form what he referred to as ‘supervised farms’ even as he claimed that designated planting areas could take in at least 1,000 inmates more.
Aside from providing PDLs with income, the program will help decongest the main penitentiaries.Under the scheme, prisoners who are doing good as farmers will be given larger plots within the penal farm.
“There will come a time when most agricultural produce will be sourced from BuCor lands tilled and farmed by PDLs,” Catapang further said.
Purging Illegal Claimants
At the launching of Catapang’s RISE program in Palawan, Department of Justice (DOJ) Sec. Crispin Remulla vowed to help BuCor facilitate legal and judicial services on environmental issues hounding BuCor lands that are being claimed by private groups.
Relatedly, BuCor is facing an uphill legal tussle against the formidable Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc., which has earlier been reported as fencing some 2,700 hectares of land in Baras for its “conservation project” as stipulated in a Memorandum of Agreement that was signed in 2017 with the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.
Interestingly, the MOA also effectively ceded even the Dumagat indigenous group’s ancestral domain, for which the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) cried foul and sought congressional inquiry over what they claimed as spurious agreement.
Likewise affected by Masungi’s sweeping claim over an area that is almost the size of Pasig City are farmers who were awarded land for agro-forestry under the Presidential Decree 324 that was signed by former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the father of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Bucor’s RISE Project
The RISE project intends to use its idle properties for planting hybrid rice, assorted vegetables, fruits and herbs. Likewise, part of the plan is the provision of an edible landscape embarking on tilapia raising, and livestock raising for meat and dairy production.
RISE will also address one of the agriculture sector’s key concerns of aging farmers and nobody taking their place since the PDLs will be trained as farmers.
The project will make both the detention facilities and the detainees relevant, sustainable, and respected, Catapang said.
“We will be surprised that the food on our table came from plantations tended by PDLs. When that happens, the PDLs will attain dignity and not be considered a social burden. It may also change the public perception of the BuCor,” he said.
The project will also contribute to the reformation of PDLs and prepare them “to live normal and productive lives upon reintegration to mainstream society,” he noted.
Marcos Shuns Masungi
In what appears to be a positive development for the Dumagats and farmers in the upland portion of Baras, the President issued a statement which looks more like shunning the call of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation asking the government to uphold the Masungi Geopark Project.
Marcos in a statement supported Catapang’s RISE project and expressed optimism that the program would help boost production and give PDLs “opportunities to realize their potential for positive change and reformation.”
“Achieving (RISE’s) objectives will also contribute to much greater humanitarian causes such as the rehabilitation and reintegration of PDLs and ensure hunger prevention, poverty alleviation, and better health,” Marcos said in a statement.
Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban said the project will include PDLs sentenced to more than three years in prison as provided in the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013.
The RISE project will be implemented in other BuCor facilities.
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