Philippine senator Panfilo Lacson lamented on Friday, September 13, before the Senate justice and human rights committee, how high-profile convicts such as Filipino-Chinese drug dealer Yu Yuk Lai benefit from corruption within the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
Two-year hospital ‘confinement’
Arrested in 1998 during a buy-and-bust operation, Lai’s subpoenaed hospital records revealed that she could possibly be already overstaying her confinement at the Metropolitan Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila. According to New Bilibid Prison insiders, Lai, who was supposed to have just been staying at the hospital for seven months, has actually been there for two years, already. This is on top of a previous record of her getting caught shopping at Greenbelt when she’s supposedly confined at the Makati Medical Center.
Lai’s lengthy hospital confinement, apparently bought through a “hospital pass”, is just the tip of the iceberg. In November 2017, PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) agents found two kilos of shabu, electronic devices, 19 checks amounting to P633,593, and foreign currency, among others, in Lai’s prison cell.
Meanwhile, preferential treatment is given for a “fee”: inmates can revel in the presence of female entertainers brought in by BuCor personnel and play in a 24-hour casino. According to Sen. Lacson who is also the chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, these illegal money-making ventures had been normalized within the BuCor of which includes the Correctional Institute for Women where Lai is being held.
The abovementioned irregularities come in the heels of the implementation of Republic Act 10592, otherwise known as the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law. The GCTA Law enables a prisoner to earn a deduction from the jail term being served upon proof of good behavior.
Because of this law, over 22,000 prisoners have been released since 2014. Of that number, 1,914 inmates with a heinous crime conviction have been freed under the GCTA. This has led to Ombudsman Samuel Martires giving a six-month suspension to 30 BuCor officials for allegedly committing grave misconduct in the premature release of those convicted with heinous crimes.
In the same vein, President Rodrigo Duterte fired BuCor Chief Nicanor Faeldon for not following instructions not to release those charged with heinous crimes. It can be recalled that Faeldon was responsible for nearly freeing Antonio Sanchez. The former mayor of Calauan Laguna was found guilty in 1995 of raping college student Eileen Sarmenta and ordering the latter’s killing and that of her boyfriend, Allan Gomez.
Overhauling the BuCor
During his speech at the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub on September 12, Duterte talked about the massive corruption within the BuCor. Brought about by the grave abuse of discretion of the implementation of the GCTA Law, he spoke of his intentions to overhaul the bureau. The following day, on September 13, he ordered that the vacant posts of suspended BuCor personnel be filled by the agency’s next-in-rank officials.
Lacson, for his part, emphasized the need to have a new BuCor chief who has, quoting Senate President Vicente Sotto III, the “intestinal fortitude”, to withstand temptations to succumb to entrenched corruption within the bureau. He also has expressed support to the proposal of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to sell the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City for P60 billion, relocate the facility, and use the proceeds from the sale to construct and improve prisons in the Philippines.