The slaying of broadcast journalist Percival Mabasa should lead government to undertake a drastic crackdown on corruption at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) , the agency that runs the world’ds largest penitentiary with 30,000 inmates called the New Bilibid Prison.
While most Filipinos think the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal revenue have been the most graft-ridden agencies, reputations they deserve, BuCor which is under the Justice Department has largely been out of the public radar as one of the most lucrative sources of graft money.
This is because from the outside, the question is how could officials running the national penitentiaruy make money out of people deprived of their freedom and their money?
The answer is that huge graft money totaling at least P100 million are generated there, mainly payments for special, illegal privileges and for the operation of criminal enterprises inside and outside the facility.
A number of inmates manage to keep their businesses outside running, their assets kept intact and earning interest. A sordid discovery in the previous administration is that incarcerated drug lords and other organized-crime heads have managed to keep their criminal operations running, inside and outside the prison.
On the Job
There are other criminal activities run from Bilibid, which require its officials collaboration, and therefore bribes. The acclaimed Filipino film “On the Job” (inspired, the director says by the revelations of this driver, a former convict and assassin) depicts the “business” of assassinations undertaken by inmates who are allowed by their jailers to get out of the jail for a few days to undertake the killings.
Graft money generated in Bilibid don’t really involve crimes, but merely payment for comfort and even luxuries beyond those allowed them under the rules, which the well-off inmates gladly give to the BuCor officials. This is “smiling money”, a former official had told me years back. In contrast he said, “Most of BIR’s and Customs are ‘crying money,’”
A number of rich people and high-level crime lords incarcerated had managed to build their own euphemistically named “kubols” which include small studio-type bungalows in the sprawling Bilibid’s compound, and sources say even just outside it. They pay BuCor officials P10,000 to as much P50,000 monthly for this privilege. One inmate who had been former politician and tyoon even had a tennis court constructed near his quarters; another had a swimming pool. One gang-leader,, inmate Herbert Colangco had a recording studio near his “kubo” from which he recorded several music videos posted at Facebook.
Visits anytime by whoever they want, prostitutes staying overnight, getting their preferred meals and alcoholic drinks, freedom to go anywhere in the compound beyond their designated cells, running sari-sari stores, and restaurants, having cellphones, TV and video players inside their cells: These are privileges given to inmates beyond and even violate the country’s incarceration rules, that many who have visited Bilibid have concluded that it is more of a barangay, with is own for-the-rich area, rather than a prison. Gang leader Jayvee Sebastian even testified in Congress several years back that drug lords in the penitentiary paid prison officials P100,000 a week to turn off signal-jammers that had been set up in the prison recently at that time to communicate to trade drugs in and outside the prison,s
But these special privileges aren’t enjoyed by every inmate. They aren’t free, with fees paid to BuCor and Bilibid officials, collected systematically form the prison guards to wardens to higher-level officials, and finally to the top officials, which allegedly include its Director General and even justice department officials.
One source estimated how much is the graft money raised in Bilibid. If the moneyed inmates like the criminal lords — about 300 or 1 percent of the 30,000 Bilibid inmates — paid an average only P30,000 monthly to maintain their very special privileges and lifestyles, the officials’ and involved staff loot would be around P100 million a year. Other forms of payments to officials such as “permits” for gambling operations and allowing drug trading in Bilibid even enlarge that regular loot.
This amount doesn’t include petty bribes for simple “privileges” such as relatives’ visits at any time or even getting cigarettes and alcohol, which are left mostly to the rank and file guards and their superiors.
This system drives the dirt-poor inmates who can’t afford the bribes to join the gangs in Bilibid, with their membership giving them a measure of privileges, distributed by the gang leader, who also lobbies – and pay — officials for their members’ comfort.
A former American Mafia member who reformed into making documentaries on gangs all over the world made an hour-and-a-half documentary shown in the Discovery channel, titled “Inside the Gangster’s Code.” It was about two notorious gang called “Commandos” and “Bahala Na” — two of twelve gangs that divides Bilibid, into their fiefdoms. That documentarist concluded: “This is the world’s biggest maximum-security prison. But it is the gangsters’ paradise. I’ve never seen anything like it. ”
Journalist Mabasa apparently had unearthed the massive corruption at BuCor and was on to its head Gerald Bantag, whose rank is undersecretary of the Justice Department.
Rather than naming names however, just a month before his killing Mabasa in his program referred to a “Cinderella Man” whom he identified as an “official of the Justice Department” . He claimed the official had become very rich at his post. However, Mabasa didn’t name the official but showed a video passing through several houses with luxury SUVs beside them. The broadcaster referred to a two-storey residence and the vehicles as owned by “Cinderella Man”.
Although Mabasa’s audience wouldn’t have an inkling who Cinderella Man was , then BuCor head Gerald Bantag would definitely recognized these, if he indeed owned the house and vehicles. If the allegations against him are right, took quick murderous action.
What I find astonishing, or even scandalous, is why administrations, especially their justice departments with their acclaimed investigative prowess – had never really cracked down on this massive source of corruption called the Bureau of Corrections. Were officials higher than its head had a share in the loot?
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