HOSTING criminal offenders and persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who have run afoul with the law, leading these individuals to the right path and providing guidance and inspiration for them to reform are the basic objectives of the government’s Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) under the Department of Justice (DOJ).
From one administration to the next, however, the BuCor has remained an embarrassment in the bureaucracy, as several Senate inquiries continued to validate the problems that refuse to leave the bureau, even if top officials had been replaced. Some of these problems are graft and corruption, congestion, culture of violence and gangsterism, and trade in contraband inside prisons.
Deep-seated irregularities in our top prison facility — the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City — are so rampant that a former chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee proposed the complete overhaul of all officials, employees, security personnel and workers there.
“Fire them all and hire new ones, those who are honest and competent,” the senator said in exasperation, although he knew that the Civil Service rules would not permit such.
Despite these problems, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and BuCor Director Gregorio Catapang are still trying their level best to make the penal system work, and even improve on it. But it would take enough funds for their reformatory plans to see the light of day.
Remulla expressed sadness before the House of Representatives when he informed lawmakers that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) rejected the request of the DOJ for a P23-billion budget for new jail facilities and higher subsidy for inmates.
Appearing at a hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations on the DOJ’s proposed P34.5 billion budget, Remulla said the P23 billion extra funding requested by the department included funding for its jail decongestion program.
Remulla said the congestion levels in prisons and penal facilities managed by the Bureau of Corrections is already at 383 percent.
He added the DOJ’s bid to increase to P100 daily the subsistence budget and P30 for medicines for each person deprived of liberty (PDL) was also affected by the DBM’s decision.
In response to Remulla’s statements, Budget Assistant Secretary Mary Ann dela Vega said the government could not afford the increase in the food and medicine allowances of inmates in BuCor-run jail facilities because this would also mean increasing the same for PDLs under the management of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).
Dela Vega said increasing the subsistence allowance for PDLs would mean an additional expense of P3 billion for the government. She also pointed out that in comparison, the daily subsistence for the military and uniformed personnel (MUP) is only P150.
We hope Congress would find an acceptable solution to the DOJ’s budget woes, perhaps by slicing part of the billions of pesos allocated to flood control, since an efficient prison network is an important pillar of the country’s justice system.
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