Former Justice Secretary and current Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra proposed on Sunday the “total overhaul” of the Bureau of Corrections and the restoration of the Department of Justice’s full administrative control over the controversial prison bureau.
Guevarra, who served as DOJ secretary from 2018 to early 2022, said most of the “shenanigans” at BuCor “were very deeply rooted and institutionalized,” which made the overhaul a necessity.
He said one of the measures that Congress should consider in overhauling the bureau was “restoring full control, instead of mere supervision over BuCor, to the DOJ.”
Under the 2013 BuCor Modernization Law, Guevarra noted that the agency “was made autonomous.”
“The DOJ now merely supervises, but does not exercise control over, the BuCor. But still, the DOJ steps in whenever the BuCor exceeds the limits of its powers,” he stressed.
During his stint as DOJ secretary, Guevarra recalled that the department fixed the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) rules so that they would be aligned with the law.
It also ordered the BuCor to stop gang wars and construction of “kubol” or special housing for inmates, tempered its actions prohibiting the passage of residents near the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, and included persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the COVID vaccination program.
The DOJ alspo launched the single carpeta (prison records) system and recommended the disapproval of the BuCor’s joint venture agreement with ATOM or Agua Tierra Oro Mina Development Corporation for non-compliance with legal requirements, among other supervisory actions.
“Sadly, however, the huge excavation inside the NBP was purposely hidden from the knowledge of the DOJ,” Guevarra lamented.
Suspended BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag has been charged in two murder complaints as “principal by inducement” for the deaths of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and inmate Cristito Villamor Palana.
Palana had been tagged by self-confessed gunman Joel S. Escorial as the middleman in the slaying of the broadcaster last Oct. 3.
The preliminary investigation of the two murder complaints, which were consolidated with the first complaint against Escorial and his alleged accomplices, will resume on Dec. 5.
Among the BuCor controversies that surfaced after being tagged in the two murder complaints were Bantag’s signing of the JVA with the ATOM and the large excavation inside the Bilibid compound.
Under the agreement, ATOM will reportedly donate a 234-hectare of land in Nueva Ecija where the new NBP will be built without any expense on the part of the government, in exchange for the development of the present NBP compound into a commercial hub, with NBP allegedly getting 35 percent of the earnings.
Guevarra said that when he was informed about the JVA during his time as DOJ secretary, he sent a memo to Bantag “telling him to hold off any further action until the DOJ had reviewed the proposed transaction.”
“Eventually my office found that the unsolicited proposal failed to comply with certain legal requirements, and we informed the Office of the Executive Secretary accordingly. Since then, we have not heard about this project. It might have been discontinued,” he said in an earlier interview.
Incumbent Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier said hehad ordered a stop to the excavation at the NBP after Bantag informed him the digging was for a treasure hunt.
The purpose of the excavation contradicted Bantag’s public pronouncements that the digging was for the construction of a diving pool for training of BuCor personnel who are also fielded during calamities and disasters.