Miriam: No to VIP treatment of inmates, senators
MANILA, Philippines – When life inside prison is even more indulgent than life outside, something is amiss.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago did not mince words expressing dismay over reports rich, high-profile inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) are provided luxuries even the average Filipino cannot afford – "staying in airconditioned rooms, enjoying contraband supplies such as illegal drugs and alcohol, and even taking in sex workers."
“These prisoners are supposed to be experiencing punishment for their crimes, not taking a vacation. They are making a mockery out of the justice system by turning our jails into their own private resorts,” she said in a statement Saturday, June 21.
"Some VIP inmates reportedly drive around the penitentiary grounds in golf carts, electric motorcycles, and tricycles," Santiago said. "It was also reported that the maximum security compound has its own dress shops, wet and dry markets, fruit stands, as well as facilities such a jazz bar, plaza, and tennis court," she added.
But only reports from the NBP – the country's main penitentiary operated by the Bureau of Corrections, which is under the Department of Justice (DOJ) – have so far surfaced. These reports included the offsite hospitalization of convicted drug lord Ricardo Camata, who was found to have brought female entertainers during his overnight hospital stay. (READ: Prison doctors, head guard sacked over inmates's VIP treatment).
Santiago said one can only imagine what happens in other penitentiaries. “The same thing is happening in other prison complexes in the country. If this can happen in a maximum security compound, who knows what else happens in other jails?” Santiago asked.
Taking a swipe at her nemesis Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who has been charged with plunder and who, at 90 years old, has sought reprieve from detention, Santiago also said, “Under the equal protection clause of the Constitution, all persons similarly situated should receive similar treatment. It does not matter whether you’re a Johnny caught picking pockets or a Johnny charged with plunder. All detainees and prisoners, whether common criminals or senators, should have the same accommodations." (READ: Ahead of arrest, Enrile pleads for liberty)
The two other opposition senators also indicted for allowing their development funds to be channeled to ghost projects have already expressed their wishes when in detention.
Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, who is now detained at the Philippine National Police custodial center, requested that he be allowed to use an air cooler or vaporizer in jail. His wife, Representative Lani Mercado-Revilla, said heat triggers his migraine.
Invesigation in aid of legislation
Santiago reiterated her call for an investigation in aid of legislation, following the reports on Camata.
The feisty senator filed on February 24 Senate Resolution 525, urging the Senate to conduct a probe into the reported "extravagant lifestyle of rich prisoners and the double standard applied in treating inmates" at the NBP.
Santiago also earlier filed the “No Frills Prison Bill” or Senate Bill No 1759, proposing measures to prevent the favored treatment for select inmates. The bill was filed on October 2, 2013.
The bill prohibits in-cell television viewing, unmonitored phone calls except with legal counsel and immediate family, possession of pornographic materials, less than 40 hours of work week, use of computers and combat training equipment, among others, to an inmate who already earned good behavior credits.
Credits for additional good conduct time allowance (GCTA), which reduces a prison sentence for each month of good behavior, are granted to deserving prisoners by law.
For a prisoner serving a sentence for a crime of violence which resulted in serious body harm, the list of prohibitons is even more exhaustive. They are not allowed less than 9 hours a day of physical labor unless physically restrained to render work, leave prison premises for any purposes unless under handcuffs and constant escort of at least one armed officer, inter-prison travel for competitive sports, possession of personal property exceeding seventy five (75) pounds or what can be contained in a standard-sized bag, among others.
Santiago said her proposed bill "aims to prevent luxurious conditions in prisons particularly for selected prisoners."
Her bill was prompted by reports convicted rapist and former Zamboanga del Norte Representative Romeo Jalosjos even had his own personal bathtub at the NBP. Jalosjos was found guilty in 1997 by a Makati court of raping an 11-year-old girl. (READ: IBP volunteer-lawyers help fight abuse of women, children)
“How can there be justice in our correctional system when we have a double standard between poor and rich inmates?” the senator asked.
Now heading the committee probing into unauthorized offsite travel of inmates, DOJ Undersecratary Francisco "Toti" Baraan III earlier also expressed dismay that the prison guards have been used to such a system that "it has become a culture sa (at the) NBP." (READ: DOJ: NBP reforms sought, including site transfer) – Rappler.com