Sunday, October 17, 2021

Carvajal: Proper context

AT the very start of the congressional probe on the National Bilibid Prisons (BNP), committee chairperson Rep. Reynaldo Umali made it clear that this was not about going after Sen. Leila de Lima. And he was absolutely right. The probe’s objectives were to establish the extent and cause of the drug trade at the BNP for the ultimate purpose of determining what legislations are needed to help prevent any future anomaly.

In any operation gone awry, one likely cause is management incompetence and/or corruption. I can, therefore, understand why the involvement of prison administrators (Justice Department personnel including the former Justice Secretary) must be looked into. And if probable cause is found for incompetence and/or corruption, then other anomalies might as well be brought to light.

Hence, I do not agree with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre foregoing the testimony of Jaybee Sebastian on the food-supply anomaly. As secretary now of the Department supervising prison administrations, he should not be content with having enough testimonial evidence to file an airtight case against de Lima. He should also be interested in hearing the testimony of others about all other forms of anomalies in order to help Congress come up with legislation to promote competence and integrity in the administration of our prisons.

Secretary Aguirre should moreover be interested in the establishment as fact that the BNP and all our jails are congested making them that much more difficult to manage. Finally he should be interested in the allegation that the congestion is mostly caused by overstaying suspects (not convicts) awaiting trial.

If true, the solution cannot be the simple appointment of competent and ethical prison managers and watchdogs but the speedy filing and resolution of cases. This would mean a budget from Congress (that is in plenary about it now) for more courts, more justices, prosecutors and other court personnel.

I am frankly surprised that critics clamor only for rehab centers. Just as urgent are more courts to speed up the trials of accused suspects. People need to take note that the rise of vigilantism (people taking the law into their own hands) might very well be a sign that people are losing confidence that the slow-to-grind courts could give them justice.

What started as healthy political debate has degenerated into ugly personal dynamics. But whatever the outcome and for the sake of the nation the proper context for Senator De Lima and the President and his people, like Secretary Aguirre, should be justice for all. That means working for a balance between effective guarantee of life and security to potential crime victims and speedy due process for alleged victimizers.
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