"What we have is obviously not the right formula."
Senator Leila de Lima is currently in detention for alleged involvement in drug trafficking at the Bureau of Corrections in Muntinlupa. But it seems there is bigger money to be made in the Good Conduct and Time Allowance racket. Prisoners convicted of heinous crimes who can afford to shell out millions of pesos are included in the GCTA list for presidential pardon.
If not for Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez being included in the list of 10,000 to be pardoned and released, the pay-for-pardon racket would have escaped the public’s eye. But because Sanchez is a high-profile prisoner convicted of the murder of UP Los Baños students Allan Gomez and Eileen Sarmenta, the citizenry and media raised a ruckus. Sanchez, according to police and court records raped Eileen Sarmenta and then gave her to his police body guards to be further subjected to multiple rape. Her boyfriend Allan Gomez was tortured and murdered.
In an interview on ANC, lawyer and former Justice Undersecretary Ramon Esguerra said it is not enough that Bureau of Corrections Director Nicanor Faeldon has been fired by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Esguerra said Faeldon must be charged criminally and made to answer for the GCTA mess.
At the Senate inquiry last week, a witness tagged a prison guard as having asked for P50,000 as down payment for her husband to be included in the list of prisoners to be pardoned. The witness claimed that the prison official took the money but did not deliver on his assurance her husband would be released.
The official denied her allegations.
Another high-profile convicts included in the pardons list were the rapist killers of the Chiong sisters in Cebu. More than 100 released convicts have surrendered to authorities.
The way things are so messy, the GCTA should be suspended and the death penalty restored to prevent individuals convicted of heinous crimes from being released. It is also a way of decongesting the national penitentiary where all kinds of irregularities are going on like special treatment of those who can pay the jail guards to keep their cellphones, likely to still run their drug trafficking from inside and make money outside.
Incidentally, whatever happened to the proposal of former Rep. Renato Diaz to transfer the National Penitentiary or build an extension facility near an army camp in Nueva Ecija? That seems like a sound idea. I wonder why the Department of Justice and Secretary Menardo Guevarra is not pursuing it. To have a prison facility near an army camp is a good idea because the area would be secure, and make prisoners think twice about escaping.
The primary concern in running a national penitentiary is to make sure it is not congested, wherein hardened criminals are mixed with minor offenders. That would be like making the light offenders go through a finishing school for major criminals.
Incarceration should be looked at as a place for rehabilitation for convicts to have a reformed life when they are released to rejoin civil society.
Sociologists know this and are working on prisoners to change their lives. But government mindset works the other way around. So most of our prisons directors are either former police chiefs or military officials. The continued anomalies at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa has shown us that this is not the right formula.