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Prisoner of warp

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Prisoner of warp

MANILA, Philippines—A bad smell of money reeks all over the controversy at the Bureau of Corrections but, in this country, what else is new?

True, former police general Ernesto Diokno, who now heads Bucor, already went on leave owing to the high-profile case of former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste’s unauthorized furlough. Thus, with media pinning the blame entirely on Diokno, perhaps unfairly, the Leviste case could probably mean his job.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is proof positive that, in this country, when something is wrong, we tend to focus on personalities. We often forget to check on the systems and cultures that, more than anything else, cause the problems in the first place. At the Bucor, for one, Diokno was in his initial stage of cleaning up the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa of the age old-problem of illegal drugs.

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The racket, reportedly, has masterminds in some imprisoned groups of drug lords, said to be Chinese nationals. Diokno wanted to change things, and the bureau perhaps had to pay the price. When the antidrug campaign was in progress, the prison official on top of it, deputy director Rodrigo Mercado, was shot dead in an ambush. That was only three weeks ago, and it happened as Mercado was leaving the prison complex in San Pedro, Laguna.

Obviously, there is the bad smell of money in the assassination. Now things are back to square one. From what I gathered, some 80 percent of the supply of drugs within the prison compound comes from the imprisoned drug lords. Who can have more money in such a facility than them? The point is that, in this country, violations of prison rules are endemic and systemic, particularly in the main facility Bilibid Prison, where moneyed and influential people are always incarcerated, which is basically the problem.

For how hard is it to pay for anything in this country, including one’s freedom? The “living-out” prisoner but well-to-do Leviste himself, during the Department of Justice (DoJ) fact-finding panel hearing, which was carried by television and radio, declared that Diokno should not get the blame for his unauthorized exit. Well, Leviste revealed that Diokno’s predecessor, erstwhile Bucor director Oscar Calderon, was the one who granted Leviste the “living-out” status.

According to media reports, Diokno said that, much earlier on, he already gave written orders to his superintendent, Armando Miranda, that all inmates involved in high-profile cases and enjoying living-out status should be monitored strictly. Now his statement may appear to be buck-passing, but if it is the truth, the public has the right to know it.

Whether we like it or not, Diokno has inherited age-old problems in Bucor, which his many predecessors have failed to correct. Diokno was perhaps a victim of the culture inside the prison. He has become a captive of the system. If the appointing powers (which may or may not be our leader Benigno Simeon, a.k.a. BS) should decide to fire Diokno, they need to fire the others who were directly in charge of all prisoners. It would be useless to change the head if the subordinates, who have been ensconced there, remain the same people.

Oh, and we also need to look into the warped systems in Bucor. Plus we need modern (i.e., secure) prison facilities.

* * *

IN CONTRAST, Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose de Jesus comes out defending his people. Cases have been filed against DoTC Undersecretary Aristotle Batuhan and Assistant Secretary Racquel Desiderio. De Jesus announced that he believed them to be pure harassment suits. In particular, De Jesus pointed at some groups threatened by the changes that his people were trying to institute in the Land Transportation Office, or the LTO.

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The Road Users Protection Advocates, or Rupa, earlier filed a case against Batuhan and Desiderio, claiming that the two favored a private company called Stradcom, which is an IT contractor of the LTO. Included in the case were the officers and board members of Stradcom. In the case, Rupa alleged that the DoTC revoked an earlier LTO order that scrapped the so-called direct connect facility, which was under contract with Stradcom. The facility actually offered to the motoring public a lower fee for the required vehicle emission test. De Jesus said that the LTO order was even bad for the public. The DoTC had to issue a status quo.

Now De Jesus and LTO chief Virginia Torres are not exactly friends. They have been fighting over the LTO’s exclusive contract with Stradcom, in which two groups are fighting for control. In the case, Rupa alleged that the DoTC officials pressured the LTO to release P662 million in fees to Stradcom while a case over those fees was still hanging at the Quezon City court.

De Jesus explained that the payment was not given to any of those two warring groups in Stradcom. It was given to the corporation. Both the LTO and DoTC have to honor their contractual obligations with Stradcom. The intra-corporate dispute did not affect the services rendered by Stradcom to the motoring public. It was only right that the government compensated the company.

To me the real question is this: Who is behind Rupa?

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TAGS: Antonio Leviste, Bucor, Bureau of Corrections, Ernesto Diokno, Stradcom
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