Sacked Bureau of Customs (Bucor) chief Nicanor Faeldon said he was slowly introducing reforms to ease conditions of prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), whom he described as “living a life in hell,” when he was booted out of his job.
Heading the bureau, he said, was a tough and challenging job.
Many of the prisoners, especially the hardened criminals, and prison personnel stubbornly resist reforms, he said.
This was true, not only in the national penitentiary but also in other prisons nationwide, which made it necessary to travel around the country, he said.
Yet, when he was appointed to the Bucor, he brought only one person with him, a colleague from the Marines.
“I was a total stranger in the BuCor and Bilibid when I arrived there nine months ago. I had only one man with me. And there I was to manage the 27,000 prisoners in the NBP alone, aside from the other [prisoners] outside Bilibid. I also had to oversee my subordinates,” said Faeldon, who lamented the absence of intelligence funds for the bureau.
“I wanted to help them particularly the [prisoners] because I believe that Bilibid should be a ‘correctional place’ that would aid transform persons who transgressed the law…those who committed infractions,” he said.
He said this is was also the intent of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, which reduces prison terms for good behavior.
The law, he said, would give the prisoners an opportunity at a decent life outside after suffering the “hellish” conditions in detention.
In Bilibid, he said, a prisoner can see the sky, and Heaven, even while lying down. “There are holes in the roof and they stay in cramped, hot little spaces,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Such a pitiful life. Everyday is like a life in hell.”
“And there were some who were absolutely abandoned by their families after entering Bilibid and other detention facilities. You can just imagine the mental anguish they have been suffering,” Faeldon added.
As Bucor chief, he said, he made prison employees experience prison life for 24 hours, following the same routine and even eating their food.
“I let them experience the life of [a prisoner] so they would know how they feel and how they would deal with them,” said Faeldon.
The Bureau, he said, had an allocation of a measly P49 for the three meals of each prisoner. “That is only more than P17 per meal,” he said.
When he was came to Bilibid, he raised it to P69, which he claimed was still very, very small. “But that’s all the budget could afford,” he said.
A prisoner is provided with only eight uniforms that he must wear everyday for 365 days. Because of this, he allowed them to wear their own shirts provided by their family. “Anyway, this is stated in fhe prison manual, but subject to some conditions, which we followed,” he said.
Faeldon also told Manila Standard that when he assumed his post in November 2018, he met resistance over the reforms he wanted to introduce.
“They even threatened to file charges against me when I changed the existing practice in the NBP on having only one prison superintendent,” he recalled.
“I was then thinking, how can a superintendent manage to check on the conduct of all the [prisoners] if he is only one? How can he attend to the records of all these prisoners?” Faeldon said.
Because of this, he designated three more superintendents in the national penitentiary, so there were four of them–one assigned to the north, south, weest and east wings of Bilibid. But some resisted this change.
Faeldon said he is happier now that he’s been relieved of a tough job.
“I know. I did nothing wrong. I was not involved in any irregularity as BuCor chief,” he said.
“I’m happy that witnesses are coming out to testify on the corruption at Bilibid and the prison system. I’m sure my name will be cleared of all suspicions that I received bribes from these people,” he said.
Faeldon who has repeatedly professed his innocence said he is unfazed by witnesses in the GCTA -for-sale scandal which was exposed with the aborted release of the convicted rapist and murder, former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez.
“I really want them to appear in the Senate hearings and testify about this thing (sale of GCTA) to ferret out the truth and clear my name of any link to the corruption inside the bureau,” he said.
The former soldier, involved in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny, told Manila Standard that he always stands for his convictions, including fighting for the truth. “I have inculcated in the minds of my children to be always honest and truthful… to stand for the truth,” he said.
The joint hearing of the Senate Blue Rbbon committee and the justice committee will resume today (Monday) and present two witnesses to substantiate the testimony of the Yolanda Camilon, who took the witness stand Thursday night.
Camilon said she gave P50,000 to BuCor officials for the release of her husband.
So far, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson, said, no evidence links Faeldon to the widespread corruption in the bureau.
Faeldon also stood pat on his testimony that he gave a verbal order to stop Sanchez’s release a day before President Rodrigo Duterte gave his order not to free Sanchez.
Asked why he did not put the order in writing, Faeldon replied: “Why would I give an order to myself? Why would I write a memo to myself?”
He also justified his failure to come out with a written order by saying that “we in the military, we can give verbal order in case of urgency. It’s a normal practice, it’s a natural thing for us to do in the service.”
Reminded that he is no longer in the military, Faeldon said Bucor nonetheless is composed of uniformed personnel.
He also dismissed talk that he was bribed for the early release of the convicts in the Chiong sisters rape and murder case, saying he merely adhered to the law in computing their GCTA.
He also said the law does not explicitly exclude those convicted of heinous crimes—like Sanchez and the Chiong convicts—from the GCTA benefit.
If there’s a syndicate or a mafia dealing in GCTA, Faeldon asserted that he was never part of it. “Maybe, they have been operating on their own, but I did not belong to it nor I was a member,” he said.
Faeldon insisted the “clean record” he gave Sanchez was based on the documents submitted to him. Reports that Sanchez had been involved in drug smuggling in 2010 went undocumented, he said.
Still, he moved to stop his release, he said.
He lamented the treatment he received at the Senate.
“Every time, I started talking to fully explain my side, I was always ordered to stop talking,” he said.
But still, he reads and listens to all the news about him.
“Anyway, they’re not hurting me. After all, lies can’t hurt me. I even read all the newspapers and listen to the news on me, and I find them entertaining. I am entertained by what’s coming out,” he said.
“When I want to be entertained, I read the news. And my question here is–what is the truth? Are we looking for the truth? Our responsibility is to find out the truth. We enjoy propagating negative issues, not knowing if there’s truth in it. So they became entertaining to me,” he added.
Asked if he had regrets, Faeldon said: “You know I can still smile at you, I can still smile at people and sleep soundly at night.”
He added, however, that his family is hurting from all the negative news.
In social media circles, the joke these days is that Faeldon should be assigned to the Metro Manila Development Authority so all the monstrous traffic would disappear, just like the shabu did when he was at Customs, and the prisoners, when he was at Bucor.
Faeldon laughed at the idea. “Ganda no'n ano… puede, ano, puede….ganda di ba? (That’s great! We can do that… Isn’t it great?”
Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, said Faeldon was not off the hook and advised President Rodrigo Duterte to be careful about saying he still trusts the sacked Bucor chief since charges may be filed against him.
The President said Friday that despite firing him, he believed Faeldon was “an upright man” that he had to fire for disobeying his order to stop Sanchez’s release.