VJT: As Prison Director: Starry, starry night



                Ever since the Bureau of Prisons (now, Bureau of Corrections) was organized, the one at the helm is usually tapped from the sector with specific relevance on the field of criminal justice administration, with special emphasis on law enforcement.  Understandly so, those were pioneering period when criminal justice administration was still under policy review and formulation.  Years later, when the United Nations finally convened and tackled criminal justice system, the term corrections or modern penology began to be included in legislative agenda of Congresses in every country in the world.  Corrections would become not only a special science in the academe, it would also occupy as the fourth pillar of the criminal justice organization.  While Corrections shared similar standards with the rest of the pillars of the criminal justice system (law enforcement, prosecution, courts, corrections and community as the 5 pillars of criminal justice administration)  the exclusivity of approaches distinguishes one from another. Hence, an officer in law enforcement, if he pursues a career in legal education, may become a good prosecutor.  A good prosecutor may eventually become a competent judge.  A good correctionalist may  come therefore from the ranks of a good law enforcer, a good prosecutor or a good judge.  As it were, the short list of those appointed to the post of Director of Prisons (Corrections) nonetheless would come from the ranks of retired police (and later, military) generals, not as a matter of competency (since most of those appointed confessed of being beginners on the job) but as a form of political reward or accommodation.  There was no adjective of “good” appended on those appointed, if by good means, one who is prepared, trained and experienced in the field of correctional administration.  That is where the principal challenge would be laid down.  A beginner to lead correctional administration is a difficult proposition.  Correctional administration is in charge of the prison community, a sector populated by offensive persons, pure predators, social outcasts and emotionally deranged individuals.  It is not an ordinary institution, not unlike a facility for priesthood or a seminary for compassion.  It has been said that prisons is the home of the scums and dregs of society.  A place where the only language of hope is dependent on rehabilitation.  A leader who is not primed on this respect has no place in the mandate of government and therefore the very antithesis of success.  If there is failure in corrections, the entire balance of criminal justice administration is tilted and public safety therefore compromised.  This is the state of Philippine Corrections today.  It is graft ridden, corruption laden, incompetently managed, despite or inspite of the idealism of its  career officers, practitioners and volunteers.

Facets of Prison Administration

                It is doubtful whether any prison administrator (past and current) ever attempted to understand the prison community.  All they knew were the dynamics of supplies for the prisoners—the source of corrupt deals and instant commissions.  Prison administrators never knew that gangs and syndicates are actually running the affairs in prison.  Prison Directors, coming from different persuasions, were immediately blinded by innuendoes and intrigues coming surreptiously from organized gangs tapping various innocent networks for their own nefarious ends.  The confusion would result with the insulation of the prison leadership from the main course of addressing the problems of correctional administration.  As a consequence, correctional management is stalled and failure of the prison service manifests through gross mismanagement of resources—both human and natural.   While the Director and his staff hems and hews, the prison community continues its trek toward the road of perdition.

Is the prison director to be appointed prepared for the challenge of realizing the mandate of a corrupt-free prison service?  First off, does the potential leader to be appointed knows that prison gangs ought to be abolished to carry his mission further to achieve this end?  This is an easy task to comprehend but is he up to the challenge of understanding how this can be done?  This is just for starters.  Can he resist the pressure of organized mafia or will he just coast along and enjoy the perks of his office, in the course of which, he may just be dismissing any attempt to pursue  the national effort to eradicate graft and corruption?

A career officer’s exposure

                Supt Venancio J. Tesoro, a practising psychologist, started his career in the prison service in 1977.  This was during the time of Gen. Vicente Raval.  Prison administration was at this time stymied by the totalitarian approach of leadership.  Yet despite the strong man rule, the entire prison organization was literally subdued by the power of gangs.  Tesoro at that time began organizing the young correctional officers and established the Buklod ng Kabataang Kawani, a youth organization of young government employees directly linked to the Civil Service Commission.  Despite the recognition of then Ministry (now Department) of Justice, Tesoro was advised to lay low.  In 1985, General Eduardo (the appointed Director replacing Director Raval) could not contain the series of welfare projects for correctional officers pursued by Tesoro, sent the latter instead to Tokyo, Japan, to attend a month-long conference to silence the officer from his effective program.

In 1986, after the Edsa Revolution, a prison volunteer (Dr. Cecilio H. Penson, father of Ms. Margie Penson-Juico, appointment secretary to President Cory Aquino) confirmed that he could personally assist government by way of being appointed Director.  Supt Tesoro, then Chief of Reception and Diagnostic Center, was also one of the officers Dr. Penson had in mind who can ascend to the top post and saved the Bureau from the morass of deterioration.  Dr.  Penson however came back with a blank expression and a failed look.  The Prison was handed down to an officer who merely wasted the resources of the agency and worst, destroyed the integrity of prison service.

Supt. Tesoro would be given assignment at the edge since his command policies were mostly against abuses and unjust practices.  Prison administration cannot earn its corrupt upkeep with Tesoro around, hence he should be given temporary assignments, mostly along technical lines.

In 2004, after the Edsa II revolt, Supt Tesoro’s name was again floated to the National Leadership for consideration as Prison Director.  Ideologues and former activists, some of them imprisoned, lobbied for an appointive post for Tesoro, their jailor.  Supt. Tesoro however declined since at that time, GMA’s first term was about to end and Tesoro would just be ineffective to handle prison service in just a couple of weeks.  (GMA however would run for another term and would be President for a full term thereafter.)

Correctional Challenge

                For Supt. Tesoro, the prison service is an agency that requires a total overhaul if only to rid it of its corrupt complexion.  To start with, there is a need to abolish gangs from within the prison community.  Gangs are the source of everything unlawful and yet, no prison leadership would even rock the boat so to speak.  Secondly, contracts with the agency needs to be revisited.  While this can be done after a new leadership is sworn to, the ignorance on its background and sheer innocence on the agency’s role by the one on top renders the entire exercise as useless.    Thirdly,  laws pertaining prison or correctional administration have not been offered much attention.  For the last 30 years, no laws were passed enhancing or advancing the cause of corrective service in the country.  Worst, the prison service still subscribe to its basis of operation on the Prison Law of 1917!

Several attempts by prison leadership to rewrite prison rules to determine relevant policies and standards but since 1949, the effort has not even merited considerable attention.  The level is still as it were, mere attempts.

The land resources of the prison agency is greater than any government agency in terms of size and potential yet prison program remain dependent on government provisions and dole-outs from non governmental agencies.  The sheer size of Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm alone can already, if properly managed, sustain the food requirements of the entire penal system yet nothing concrete has ever been conducted.  Prison programs remain defective and its effect, manifestly poor.

Every time Supt Tesoro would take the matter for consideration with the appointed Director, he would oftentimes be isolated in one clerical post after another.  His efforts would not even merit attention.  To be relevant, he would publish books on Prison Administration and find active time in the training of officers on Jail and Prison administration.

Recently however, Supt Tesoro would administer Davao Prison and Penal Farm and establish the second facility for women prisoners, Correctional Institute for Women in Mindanao.  It is one model facility straight from his book.  Davao Prison is also the only prison in the country where there are no gangs.

With such background in prison administration, the question that crops up is this, if indeed we really wanted to correct one of several agencies in our government, especially one that deals on abolishing corrupt practices and restoring hope for the incarcerated humanity,  “Why is Supt Tesoro should be Director of Corrections?”




About Ven J. Tesoro

writer, prison officer, artist
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