Press Release
February 3, 2015

Build modern national penitentiary complex
to decongest our jails - Pimentel asks

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III is asking the national government for a one-time, big-time investment to build a modern national penitentiary and decongest the country's outdated, outmoded and dilapidated correctional facilities.

"Gone should be the notion that prisoners are criminals who deserve little or no sympathy at all," he said during a recent privilege speech at the Senate.

Pimentel, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, wanted to replace the aging New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City that was built in 1935 in favour of a modern national penitentiary complex to address problems caused by congestion and sub-human condition at the country's premier penitentiary.

Citing the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, he said all prisoners should be treated with "respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings."

Pimentel quoted democracy icon Nelson Mandela of South Africa, saying "no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones."

Based on records by the Bureau of Corrections, Pimentel said as of August last year the country's seven penitentiaries have a total prison population of 40,185 inmates when they are only good for 16,000 inmates, translating to a congestion rate of about 150 percent.

The Bilibid Prison, site of a recent scandal involving high-profile inmates, is more disconcerting, said Pimentel, because it has a congestion rate of 170 percent with a population of roughly 22,800 for 8,400 inmates only.

He said the inadequate and poor maintenance of penal facilities resulted in bloody fights and anarchy and the proliferation of criminal activities while others live like kings in their air-conditioned special cells, called "kubols."

Pimentel also noted the overlapping functions of various national agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the different local government units (LGUs) charged with similar correction and rehabilitation functions.

A 2003 study conducted by the Supreme Court in coordination with the United Nations showed lack of information technology and expertise to properly maintain the inmates' records and process documents for their release.

There is also concern to improve overall management capacity and resources and resolve issues on unattractive compensation, emoluments and benefits and inadequate training facilities, he said.

Among the reforms cited in the study are provisions for opportunities to development proper work skills and acquire education and training which will translate into economic self-sufficiency upon release of the inmates.

Next is the engagement of inmates in meaningful work assignments to help defray the tax burden of their incarceration, and provisions for counselling, life skills training and spiritual guidance to give inmates new directions in their lives.

The same study also emphasized the role of the community in the process of restoration and re-integration of offenders.

Pimentel said many inmates live in poor living condition and have limited access to legal services, problems that are compounded by delays in the administration of justice.

He asked his peers to commit themselves to the unfinished task at hand "to bring about genuine and lasting reforms that will center on our incarcerated countrymen."

Congress recently enacted Republic Act No. 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, mandating government to zealously promote the general welfare and safeguard the basic rights of every prisoner.

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