Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Officer-in-Charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. ought to be appointed as BuCor Director as soon as possible.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla is optimistic President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will appoint Catapang as BuCor Director anytime soon.
Catapang is a retired Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines but at age 63, he is still smart, sharp, industrious, and healthy enough for the rigorous post of BuCor chief.
Even though his permanent designation is still awaited, Catapang can continue the reforms he has introduced in the bureau since his recent posting as BuCor OIC.
Needless to say, there are many reforms needed in the BuCor.
First, there is a need to rotate prison guards every three or four months.
A prison guard who stays too long in a particular post is exposed to the temptation of treating his post as a more or less permanent fiefdom.
As a result, the guard tends to get complacent, lax and lazy, and may even succumb to selling privileges to the prisoners.
Prison guards stationed at a specific post for too long are likely to be approached by syndicates within and outside the prison walls, and bribed to be part of the syndicate.
This may mean the smuggling of contraband, dangerous drugs, and paraphernalia prohibited inside prisons.
Thus, Catapang must order the immediate rotation of prison guards, not only within one prison, but among the many correctional facilities under the BuCor.
Second, prison guards who extort money from inmates must be suspended and immediately investigated.
If found guilty, they must be summarily dismissed from the service, or even made to face criminal charges.
It is an open secret that prisoners need money to mitigate the conditions of their confinement, i.e., money to buy a few basic necessities and perhaps some occasional conveniences outside of the usually unpalatable prison food.
The money is provided by their families and friends.
Inmates whose relatives and friends who live near enough the prison can easily hand over the funds to the inmate concerned.
Family members and friends who live in the provinces, however, often have no choice but to send funds through mobile phone applications.
The problem is, prisoners are not allowed to possess mobile phones during their incarceration.
Thus, the prison arrangement is that relatives and friends send money through a common mobile phone in the possession of prison guards. In theory, the guards should transmit the information to the inmates.
A news report recently revealed this arrangement has been abused by prison guards at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City, who extract a percentage of the money sent by electronic process to the inmates concerned.
It’s a lucrative racket at the expense of the inmates.
Catapang, therefore, must put an end to this racket.
Third, the BuCor should install a system whereby inmates can get the online equivalent of a personal visit from relatives and friends.
Computers can be installed at an area within the control and supervision of prison authorities, and online visits can be scheduled equitably among the inmates.
Online visitations on a more or less regular basis will not only make prison conditions more humane; the chances of smuggling of contraband inside the prison can be substantially reduced.
Less physical contact means less chances of smuggling contraband.
Fourth, Catapang should put an end to the nefarious practice of allowing special privileges to wealthy inmates.
In the past, those privileges include access to air-conditioned huts, complete with appliances; catering services provided by nearby restaurants; and the unlimited use of mobile phones and internet access.
I have read news reports of past examples, such as the special quarters given to the late Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was serving his sentence at the national penitentiary for rape and murder.
This inmate liked to portray himself as a Marian devotee, but his cover was busted when a Marian image accidentally fell and broke, revealing that drugs were hidden inside it.
The charges against detained ex-Justice Secretary and former Senator Leila de Lima include the alleged special treatment she gave, as Justice Secretary, to drug lords detained at the national penitentiary (which was under her watch) in exchange for campaign funds for her senatorial run in 2016.
Among the instances of special treatment allegedly given to the drug lords include air-conditioned quarters with appliances, as well as unlimited access to restaurant food, drugs, firearms and women of ill-repute.
Fifth, there are reports that prison officials are de facto owners of several residential homes near the prison compound, the national penitentiary in particular, and that they rent these out to rich prisoners for a pricely sum.
Catapang should conduct an investigation on this reported anomaly, and penalize those involved in the racket.
This way, Catapang can be an exemplar BuCor chief.