GEN. TINIO, Nueva Ecija—The national government is abandoning the plan of the previous administration to build the P50.3-billion state-of-the-art New Bilibid Prison inside the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation straddling this town because of the high cost of building the facility amid the loss of 53,800 potential jobs in the province.
The scrapping of the project was disclosed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre during a congressional hearing Wednesday night.
Aguirre said the present 551-hectare prison in Muntinlupa City would just be refurbished.
“The cost of transfer is so high. That is, it is prohibitive. The buildings alone would cost at least P50 billion or more than $1 billion,” Aguirre told congressmen.
The project was hatched during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III when Senator Leila de Lima was his justice secretary.
Last June, former governor Aurelio Umali said the project would push through despite the reluctance of Aquino to approve it for fear of being accused of implementing a “midnight deal.”
Umali, husband of Gov. Czarina Umali, said Aquino gave his go-signal for the project but left it to his successor to implement it.
The modern facility was to be set up in the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation where Aquino’s late father, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was placed under solitary confinement during Martial Law.
The two-story new facility was planned to be constructed under the build-transfer-maintain structure at a 500-hectare area in Barangay Nazareth inside Fort Magsaysay as a joint undertaking of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Corrections.
Teodora Diaz, BuCor assistant director, said the facility would have had a maximum capacity of 26,000 inmates, including 20,000 inmates from the NBP and 2,000 from the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.
Former DoJ undersecretary Francisco Baraan said that at present, prison conditions in the various penal facilities in the country leave much to be desired, citing those in Muntinlupa, Palawan and even in Davao, hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I saw correctional facilities in Japan, Canada and Australia and our facilities pale in comparison,” he said, adding that Muntinlupa, for one, does not look like a prison facility at all and constitutes cruel and degrading punishment to the prisoners.
The NBP in Muntinlupa, which opened in 1940, is now heavily congested as it houses 14,500 prisoners in its maximum security detention area alone although it was programmed to accommodate only 8,400 inmates. All in all, the NBP houses around 20,000 inmates.
The government plans to convert the Muntinlupa penitentiary, valued at around P42 billion, into a mixed-use commercial area.
The plan to transfer the 20,000 inmates from the NBP and 2,000 inmates from the CIW was pursued after local officials in Tanay, Rizal opposed an earlier order to transfer them there.