Isn’t it about time the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) be renamed – and appropriately so – as the Bureau of Corruption?
We ask this question following the recent raid by authorities in the New Bilibid Prison, the national penitentiary, that led to the discovery of a huge stash of contraband that included mobile phones; packets of the illegal drug methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as shabu; improvised weapons; firearms; household appliances; and even 7,500 cans of beer.
Ah, the beer. The confiscated beer is said to be sold outside for only P50 each.
But inside, it commands a princely sum of P1,000, certainly a price not affordable by the pauper prisoners, but only by the very rich.
And the very rich prisoners, it seems, are those who are still able to continue their illegal trade – oftentimes it’s trafficking in illegal drugs, if we’re not mistaken – before they were arrested and locked up in the penitentiary, some, if not all, for life.
The raid, according to news reports, was conducted as part of BuCor’s “Oplan Paglilinis” (or Oplan Cleansing).
That’s what’s ironic about this whole episode, as it appears that it should be the bureau itself that should be cleaned up, not just the nooks and crannies of the quarters of the inmates.
But wait, there’s more.
It’s not just prohibited items that should be the object of periodic sweeps of inmates’ quarters.
More important, from where we sit, is that the BuCor itself has been corrupted to the core by the money that apparently could be easily made by allowing such contraband to be brought into the premises of the penitentiary.
That seems to be small change, or peanuts, as some would say, compared to the moolah that could be made by giving rich convicts free rein in conducting illegal activities right within prison walls.
No less than the now-suspended Director General of the Bureau of Corrections, former police general Gerald Bantag, is in hot water for his alleged role as mastermind in the October 3 murder of hard-hitting broadcaster Percival Mabasa, also known as Percy Lapid.
Bantag has been formally charged by the DOJ and the NBI for the murder.
This is not the first time that BuCor has been in the crosshairs of anti-corruption advocates.
Not too long ago, rich inmates were found to have been allowed to put up luxurious quarters within the penitentiary.
One convict whose hold-up gang robbed a bank and killed more than 10 or 11 people in the process was even able to put up a music performance and recording facility inside his quarters.
Some of the convicts given extraordinary privileges by prison guards recruited by BuCor now claim to have been coerced by no less than the Department of Justice to pin down former Commission on Human Rights chair and ex-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on trumped-up charges of conspiracy in a drug trafficking scheme to raise funds for her senatorial bid in 2016.
Even a former BuCor head also claims to have been intimidated by the former DOJ leadership into implicating de Lima in the false charges against her.
The allegations of corruption do not end there.
BuCor also got enmeshed in the implementation of the Good Conduct and Time Allowance (GCTA) law that allowed convicts who had exhibited good behavior during their prison term to be released earlier.
We recall that amid allegations of widespread corruption in BuCor and the New Bilibid Prison in the past, prison guards were even replaced wholesale for sometime by an elite team of Special Weapons and Tactics personnel.
The SWAT personnel were forbidden from fraternizing with inmates and visitors and to maintain strict enforcement of prison rules, including the entry of contraband.
But it seems that the elite troops also succumbed to the lure of easy money and were soon replaced by another prison leadership.
President Bongbong Marcos has designated Gregorio Catapang, a former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, as officer-in-charge of BuCor.
Catapang, a retired military general, has already ordered the superintendents of the six other BuCor prisons and penal farms nationwide to initiate a dialogue with the different gangs for a peaceful surrender of contraband following the raid in the Muntinlupa penitentiary.
Can the former military official hack it as the head of the Bureau of Corrections? That remains to be seen.
While at this, it is also proper to ask: can Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla change the culture of corruption in the Bureau of Corrections?
We certainly hope so.