BUREAU OF CORRECTIONS: IN THE MIDST OF SCANDAL
We have seen a lot of brickbats thrown at the Bureau of Corrections and a glimpse of every issue makes one throw up. And no less than the Department of Justice, the main office in charge of supervising the agency is leading in the throwing of stones, accusations if you may, followed by an irate media in successive fashion, at times, the media even initiates the necessary attack. It is of course a healthy sign of cleansing. As a matter of fact, it is even encouraging. Prison is indeed no place for the faint of heart. It is never a place for the pure of conscience. It is where the scum and dregs of society are confined. No prisoner, while serving time, would even volunteer to stay a day longer. Escape or violence is a wish to be fulfilled.
Recent events that rocked the Bureau of Corrections came in succession. There was the smuggled camera capturing the drug abuse obtaining inside the prison camp. There was the ambushed killing of a prison official. Then the Leviste caper. Followed by issues of VIP treatment among inmates and subsequently, the formal charges filed against prison officers by the DOJ. As a result, the whole incident became a sensational staple in media meriting the submission of resignation by the Prison Director, former MPD police chief, General Ernesto Diokno. The scandal did not stop there. Drug trade and abuse came into light. Prostitution and the record of the agency in handling prisoners became the talk of the town. Then prison transactions like how food is prepared has been reviewed and the catering program suddenly appeared at the cross hair of public attention. All these happened or evolved for the last 20 years until it exploded. The Bureau of Corrections is indeed a walking time bomb so to speak and it did not only succumb to its flaws but it also exposed a lot of issues bordering on its competency in handling the most dangerous sector of our society. Yet for the last several years, records would bear, that several leaders with background in military and law enforcement changed hands. The agency has become a repository of retired followers, coming as it were as a political consideration since the post of prison leadership happens to be one of the sinecures of power appointments. The prison community remained as it was despite changes. Worst, it could have remained stagnant or conservative like any total institution but it retrogressed towards the passing of years. The military or law enforcement background of those appointed at the helm never contributed a single thread; it even reinforced every conceivable threat on any program bearing the principle of rehabilitation.
The military takes down its enemy as their principal orientation. The police, a leaf similar to their aggressive military counterpart is similarly oriented as far as their prey in public safety is concerned. How then can we expect these officers, after retirement and being introduced into a different system, to make a 360 degree turn and be effective as implementers of rules on handling properly their “enemies?” It is either they engage them in a fatal combat or tolerate everything since they do not know how to manage the “enemy-turned-captive” sector.
The foot soldiers, the correctional officers are left to fend for themselves. They have to live with the fact that at times their leaders are strict to the point of being unbearable to an instance where they have to tolerate mischief since to correct abuses means being haled to court (by gangs) if not being charged by the tolerant leadership as a “non-team player.” The off-and-on, neither-here-nor-there approach in prison governance could never be grasped and as a consequence, the prison officers are nowhere near an understanding on how they could operate efficiently in a community where threats to their persons is as realistic and certain as day follows night.
It is not within the province of prison officers however to declare money as contraband. It was suggested before, implied as a matter of fact, but it never was pursued by the prison leadership. The organization has been left on their devise to make do with any regulation just to check abuses where money is the principal force. Cornering money is the touchstone of gangs and money is singularly the fountainhead of every illegal activity in the prison camp. It can buy peace of mind and it could also procure privileges. While it can settle score and reduce tension to a certain extent, its beneficial role is far outweighed by disadvantages. Declare money as contraband in prison and the facility becomes an ideal level field for everyone. Without money, gangs will wither, “kubols” will disintegrate, prostitution will be a thing of the past, corruption will fade, drug problem will be history and prison authorities will finally shine, well, as authorities in the first place.
Prosecuting prison officers is the soundest tact. As a matter of fact, one merely awaits at the sideline any disparity and one catches the confused personnel. There goes the prey and the poor officer gets the axe. Easy. But that is not the proper way how corrections should be conducted. The Bureau of Corrections must have laws, updated ones, to base its references and guide its actions. We cannot expect another prison leadership to reinvent rules to his liking, impose it as it were and when it backfires, run after the neck of prison officers. We will just be wasting the precious tax of the people in the process. And worst, we will only make a mockery out of our criminal justice administration.
First, let us have a good referee to start with to borrow the recent NBA craze—someone who knows prison work, how the game works that is. How he officiates is central in penal reforms. And then ask him what better laws, rules or amendments are needed to conduct a good game. Support his decision no matter how unpopular it is in the estimation of the prison community. Let us not forget those who trespassed against the norm but let us not expose those who after them would follow suit and eventually commit similar irregularities. Ignoring amendments as change in prison law merely would place our correctional officers in a bind, in a challenging and unfair posting, and subsequently in a trap until a repeat of the dire consequences of mismanagement will again lurk its ugly appearance. For all we know, we might once again end up in the first quarter of the game. That would only mean that we have never learned at all from the lessons of that which we all relished in the so called prison scandal. Against the premise of good governance there lies the manner of winning. The road is long and laden with challenges. The road to take is even described as “daang matuwid.” It can be traversed though and the game can be won. It is just a matter of setting a good plan. For observers like me, I shout and root for our correctional system prodding every personnel to maintain their confidence and love their career standing. But of course, let us await for the coach, the Department of Justice, to inspire the system. Meanwhile, I say along with those basketball fans, as far as Philippine correctional administration is concerned, Win or Go Home.
P/Supt IV Venancio J. Tesoro