By Ralph Edwin Villanueva, September 25 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — In a bid to cleanse the controversy-ridden Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), its incoming chief wants all its officials to undergo retraining and go back to school.

According to new BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag, some officials and guards of the penal institution do not have proper training.

He stressed the need to have them retrained to make them equal to their tasks.

This is how to make them professional in their job and discourage corruption among their ranks, he said.

Bantag, who served as regional director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, also warned  officials thinking of engaging in illegal practices to shape up or face the consequences.

“You change now. If not, bad things will happen. If you are brave, go ahead. We will see,” Bantag warned.

The corruption at the BuCor could have gone unnoticed if not for the reports that convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez was about to walk free under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

The Senate investigation into the controversy also revealed BuCor has released nearly 2,000 prisoners over the last few years, including those convicted of heinous crimes who were found to be ineligible for the GCTA law that rewards good behavior with shorter jail time.

The release of heinous crime convicts triggered the Senate investigation that eventually unraveled a racket among prison officials selling the GCTA allowances for a fee.

President Duterte sacked Nicanor Faeldon amid the mess and appointed Bantag as the new BuCor chief.

The President also wanted Bantag to initiate the revamp of the BuCor.

Bantag promised he will make sure none of the controversies will happen again, saying he will not shave until the problems surrounding BuCor are solved.

Bantag also warned that those who try to bribe him will be “butchered” with administrative and criminal cases.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo supported the tough talk of Bantag.

Just like the President, Panelo said Bantag just made a “political statement.”

“It’s a warning to all of them that he is not the kind of man who will accept bribes. That’s about it,” Panelo said.

Duterte defended the appointment of Bantag as the new corrections bureau boss. Bantag was facing homicide charges over the killing of several inmates in a grenade explosion during his term as warden of the Parañaque City Jail in 2016.

Duterte said he believed Bantag was the right choice.

“I think the case is in court, he’s facing homicide charges. I don’t think that he did it. If he did, then he might be convicted,” he said.

“But in the meantime, I want him (for the post as BuCor chief). I like him because I heard he throws grenades,” he added, nonchalantly.

Meanwhile, senators wanted to help the new prisons chief by proposing to decongest the penal facilities by putting up several more prisons to accommodate heinous crime convicts.

“The DOJ will support any and all bills aiming to decongest and modernize our prison facilities,” Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

Creating “state-of-the-art” prison facilities in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao remains in the hands of the lawmakers, if the construction of these facilities would be given budget allocations, considering that other sectors such as public works and education are given priority, he said.

“It is, however, a question of legislative priority, given the competing claims of the more productive sectors like public works and education,” Guevarra added.

At present, there are seven penal facilities under the BuCor.

“A possible game changer is the privatization of the sellable portions of the NBP (New Bilibid Prison) property, which could be the stand-alone funding source, but this is subject to a comprehensive legal audit and feasibility study, not to mention the political will to do it,” Guevarra said.  – With Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan