President Benigno Aquino III recently signed into law a consolidated House and Senate bill that seeks to modernize the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima said that Republic Act 10575, otherwise known as the The Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, mainly seeks to upgrade prison facilities, professionalize and restructure the Bureau, and increase the salary and benefits of its personnel. BuCor is a constituent agency of the DOJ.
"This is a new beginning for BuCor. With the new law, we can now improve prison facilities, recruit more corrections officers, and implement more responsive reformation programs for inmates. One of our long-term goals is to meet international standards in prison administration as required by the new law", De Lima said.
De Lima said that the bureau is a facility-dependent organization since the safety and security of both inmates and BuCor personnel relies on secure, well-designed prison cells and other structures. She said that the enactment of R.A. 10575 broke the decades-long cycle of neglect that has left the country's prisons dilapidated, congested, and under-staffed.
"Prison reforms are part of the President's good governance agenda. The new law aims to improve and strengthen the culture of professionalism, competence, and integrity among BuCor's corrections personnel and civilian employees. The new law will guide us in following the rule of law and keeping a clear conscience in running our country's prisons," De Lima said.
She added that the government is now in the early stages of a regional prisons construction project which aims to address the shortage of correctional facilities.
At the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntiniupa City alone, the maximum capacity of the prison is 9,000 inmates but it currently holds 21,106 prisoners, which posts a congestion rate of 134%. In Leyte Regional Prison, the maximum capacity is only 486 but it holds 1,6oi inmates or a congestion rate of 229%.
De Lima ordered BuCor Director Franklin Jesus Bucayu to take immediate steps to implement the provisions of R.A. 10575 in order to address the present challenges faced by the Bureau and to eventually meet the United Nation's standards in the treatment of inmates or Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL).
BuCor personnel welcomed the enactment of the much-awaited modernization law. The new law mandates BuCor to implement a rationalized system of promotion and performance evaluation system in coordination with the Civil Service Commission.
For the past 20 years, the total authorized number of prison guards under the old prison law was pegged at only 2,362 while the prison population has tripled from 12,000 to 37,232. The current prison guard- to-inmate ratio is at 1:62 at the NBP to as high as 1:144 at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.
The Corrections Act of 2013 also authorizes the recruitment of additional personnel and the standardization of salary grades so that BuCor corrections personnel could be at par with their counterparts from the Bureau of Jail Management & Penology (BJMP).
The lowest ranking BJMP uniformed personnel or Jail Officer 1 (JO1) has a salary grade of 10 while the Prison Guard 1 (PG1) in BuCor only had a salary grade of 5. For those with officer rank, the BJMP's Jail Inspector which is the equivalent to the rank of Lieutenant has a salary grade of 22 while BuCor's Prison Inspector was pegged at ii. Under the old law, it was not unusual for a PG1 to retire without having been promoted even after 40 years of service.
The Justice Secretary emphasized the need to recruit more corrections personnel who will pass the new qualification standards set by R.A. 10575. Under the new law, new applicants for uniformed correctional or reformation personnel positions must be college graduates and within the age limit of 21 to 40 years old.
The BuCor was organized and has been operating under the Prison Act of 1917, a law that was passed 96 years ago and had never been updated until President Aquino signed R.A.10575.
BuCor oversees the operations of seven (7) prisons located in different parts of the country. Of the total prison population of 37,232, majority of inmates are confined at the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. BuCor is in-charge of inmates who had been sentenced by the courts to serve at least three years in prison and above.