Reform or Execution

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

I have been wanting to write about the Bucor (Bureau of Corrections) controversy. There are questions in my mind that I have been meaning to ask because what I read in newspapers or online articles are never that complete. What I know for a fact is that controversy or scandal is a recurring event in New Bilibid Prison. The very place where criminals are imprisoned, both as a punishment and a way to protect the public from them – ironically appears to be a major headquarters for ongoing criminality around the country. It can even seem that there are no bigger organized crime organizations than the ones being run from the NBP.

Reviewing historical events that have marked Bilibid as a persistent source of controversy or scandal, it is inevitable that we reach one conclusion. If major criminals can run their organizations from prison, then prison officials have either been neglectful or complicit. The latter is more probable. Constant neglect is easier to correct than systemic corruption – anywhere. The mess in Bilibid has not been corrected, but its corruption has been quite effective.

If I had more time and inclination, I would do more detailed research of the thread of controversies and scandals that have accompanied the New Bilibid Prison in its long history. Fortunately, I have neither more time or inclination. What I remember is enough. And not so much about the details, but more of the bitter aftertaste. Somehow, when the gory details of corruption are momentarily forgotten, the filth sticks to the soul.

What does one do when something has become an uncontrollable menace to society? Well, many leaders in government that are mandated to address the menace, like illegal drugs, simplify matters and push for the return of the death penalty. Even before the reinstatement of the death penalty, the official war on drugs by the national government is already very bloody. Like the New Bilibid Prison history, I do not have the time or inclination to research on the body count. Whether it is 10,000 or 30,000, is it really more important than the fact that people are killed? When the details are forgotten, the stink of blood is retained by the nostrils.

My thoughts simply associate a solution that is copied from the official recommendation of the Executive Branch – the death penalty. Why not apply the death penalty to the New Bilibid Prison. If the corruption is more powerful than any appointee, why not execute the New Bilibid Prison? If no administration has the fortitude of waging a relentless and winnable war against an establishment and system that has become a monster, why not sentence it to death? If reform has become an impossibility, what other option is there?

It is important to choose between reform or execution. Whichever direction we take will demand its own pathway, very different pathway. History, however, favors the death penalty in the case of the New Bilibid Prison. The rate of failure of reform is not only dismal, but it is also total. The monster has not been tamed, it has grown stronger and more innovative in corrupting the appointed reformers. It can even be speculated, from the long line of failed reformers, that the monster influences even the many layers of appointing powers.

Reform is not impossible, but it is improbable considering everything. It is difficult to bring a crucial part of our society’s security on a path of improbability. Organized crime is supposed to be dismantled, not nurtured. Let us look at how it has been over the last several decades, whether the NBP has become more disciplined or more corruptive. Sadly, corruption has won every battle, and every victory has allowed it to become more powerful and innovative. It used to be that the food budget was the most tempting source of corruption. Now, it is the drug or drug lords.

But if we decide on the death penalty on this incorrigible monster, I am sure that brilliant ideas can come from both the private and public sector. It can become a national project where ideas can be sourced from anyone and prizes given to the most outstanding of concepts and proposals. Execute New Bilibid Prison without executing a penal and reform system for the whole country. Of course, the more we probe the options on a new system, physical and operational, the Bureau of Corrections itself will have to be revisited – from concept to the very people running everything.

The need for a correctional system is any society is unavoidable. So is the need for a group to collect taxes. And, of course, another to watch over what and who comes in our port of entries. All need reform in the most radical of manner, the BIR, the Customs, and the Bureau of Corrections. Because they cannot be dispensed with. And because they have to be kept clean in order to keep society clean as well.

If these are institutionally infected, the illness is not like an ordinary cold that we can expect to experience in the course of life. If corruption has grown systemic, it is as deadly as cancer. And cancer needs a radical protocol before it metastasizes the whole body. Cancer, too, has found alternative routes of treatment, less violent and more humane. These alternatives, though, need great and consistent organic support to the immune system. In people terms, they need lots and lots of good people, lots and lots of ethics and morals.

So, which is it for us? What direction and manner have a greater probability of cure? The radical protocol needs political will and consistency. The alternative needs even more of the same political will and consistency.

Do we have whatever it takes? What is pitiful is if we have none, either way.

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