'Unholy alliances' between inmates, jail guards make Bilibid a hotbed of corruption

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — Inmates and jail guards have forged "unholy alliances" to break the rules inside the New Bilibid Prison for money, a Bureau of Corrections official admitted Thursday.

BuCor Legal Division chief Frederic Anthony Santos told lawmakers that there's an unwritten rule among convicts and their wardens inside the Muntinlupa facility to cover each other's backs by doing favors while behind bars. He made the confession after Senator Panfilo Lacson asked him if there is corruption within the BuCor.

"Ang problema po sa loob, 'yung code of silence ay matindi [The problem there is the code of silence is strictly followed]," Santos told members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee during its inquiry.

Santos cited examples where prison guards would relent on the punishment that should be meted out to inmates caught using mobile phones or contraband items in their cell, opting for a settlement rather than filing a complaint against the prisoner in trouble.

"Minsan out of mercy, 'o sige kumpiskahin ko na lang 'yung selpon mo at hindi na kita kakasuhan. Sabihin na lang natin, nakita ko diyan, voluntary 'yan'... Syempre magpapasalamat po 'yun. Siguro bibigyan ka noon ng ₱500, malaki na siguro yung ₱1,000 noon para magpasalamat lang sa 'yo," Santos said, admitting petty corruption remains rampant within Bilibid.

[Translation: Sometimes out of mercy, the guard says 'I will just confiscate your phone, I won't file a complaint. Let's just say I saw it inside the cell or it was handed in voluntarily'. Of course, the inmate will thank you, maybe give you ₱500 or even up to ₱1,000.]

These issues came to light as a whistleblower exposed that early freedom for inmates has been up for sale through the Good Conduct Time Allowance law. Other corrupt schemes were eventually unearthed, like paying guards to bring in personal items and even hospital passes especially for high-profile inmates.

READ: Ex-BuCor official reveals 'money-making' schemes in Bilibid

When asked about solutions, Santos said they try to rotate BuCor personnel to dislodge ties they have been forged with prisoners. But Lacson said this was a mere stop-gap measure, with the BuCor official admitting that the new guards assigned to a certain post will again nurture close ties with inmates in a matter of time.

For his part, committee chair Senator Richard Gordon said he is "appalled" by these reports. "Apparently, BuCor has created an institution of corruption," he said.

Gordon added that the committee will be releasing a report on the BuCor inquiry after five long hearings on Monday, while a technical working group will start work on proposed changes to the GCTA law.