Far too often all the news we get from the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa seems to be the bad ones, from petty corruption, such as bribery of guards by visiting family members so they can be allowed in without any hassles, to the grant of privileges to affluent inmates, including airconditioned quarters, while ordinary inmates have to live under subhuman conditions in cramped cells.
And recently, of course, no less than the former Director General of the Bureau of Corrections that runs the prison facility has been accused of masterminding the killing of hard-hitting broadcaster Percy Lapid in collusion with another top prison official.
Both are now apparently in hiding after arrest warrants were issued by the court for twin murders.
There’s good news, however, amid the spate of bad news from the grossly overcrowded prison facility that has obviously seen better days and manifests the worst aspects of a decrepit penal system.
All 700 guards of the New Bilibid Prison’s maximum security compound were sacked and replaced last week by newly designated Bureau of Corrections Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr. as he started the internal cleansing among its personnel as part of his reform agenda for the bureau long besieged by controversies.
Catapang also relieved the superintendent of the NBP maximum security compound, and replaced him with a female Corrections Senior Inspector.
As the first woman to head the compound in recent history, she will oversee more than 18,200 inmates, mostly convicted of heinous crimes including murder, kidnapping and drug trading, in the BuCor’s most secure facility located in Muntinlupa City.
The new prison chief said he had long wanted to replace the guards at NBP’s maximum security compound as some of them committed “outright” violations of BuCor rules and regulations.
Some were caught tampering with the CCTV cameras to avoid being observed by their superiors. Others were also reported to have hid the money they received as bribes in their locker rooms.
Then there were prison guards who were simply dishonest in their attendance, asking someone to sign on their behalf, while some “30 or 50” personnel were found lounging in the agro-industrial park in NBP’s minimum security compound.
But would changing the guards lead to less corruption in the prison facility?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Recall that a similar move was made not too long ago, with the prison guards replaced wholesale by a contingent of police Special Weapons and Tactics, if we’re not mistaken, in the hope their specialized training would make them less vulnerable to wrongdoing.
They did not last long in that assignment.
“I ask for your cooperation because I have to reform BuCor …within five years. There will be a lot of changes that will be happening here,” Catapang told prison personnel recently.
Will he be able to clean up the Augean stables—a place marked by great accumulation of filth or corruption—that the New Bilibid Prison has become over the years?