I WAS in prison for only a few months in 1987, but the experience was enough to give me a better understanding of the controversy now engulfing the Bureau of Corrections and the distortion of a good prison policy mandated by the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law. The setup at the old Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center (BBRC) in Barangay Apas, Cebu City provided me with a glimpse of the corruption prevailing in prisons everywhere in the country.
The first thing I noticed there was the irony.
In Brigada 5 where I was incarcerated, I befriended an inmate arrested for possession of marijuana. But marijuana was sold inside the detention cells for P1.50 per stick. Considering inflation, that P1.50 was obviously bigger in value than the current P1.50. That reality must have pained the inmate as much as his arrest.
A short story I wrote that was published in the old SunStar Weekend in the early ‘90s mentioned something about an inmate pawning a plywood that also functioned as his bed (to shield his body from the cold cement floor) because he needed the money to gamble. A mahjong table was a feature inside the old BBRC.
I was years from becoming a journalist when I was jailed, so I wasn’t interested in who was behind the selling of marijuana and the mahjong operation inside the old BBRC. I didn’t even question the quality of the food served there, but the food allowance would soon become an issue because of corruption in its spending. Prisoners are mostly either docile or could be corrupted by corrupt prison handlers.
I was already a journalist when I noted from reports the worsening of the corrupt practices inside the old BBRC. Remember that inspection in the ‘90s on the cell of high-profile inmate Ruben Ecleo, then the supreme master of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, who was jailed for the slaying of his wife Alona Bacolod? A chainsaw was even found inside.
When marijuana was supplanted in popularity among drug addicts by shabu, things got worse inside the jail. Suspected drug lords soon were able to do their thing while incarcerated. The young son of my cousin got a closer look at the corrupt setup when he was arrested and ended up becoming one of the favorites of a jailed neighbor who became a big-time drug lord. He became the “tindero” of the store operated by the drug lord inside the jail.
I also heard stories about a former The Freeman colleague (may he rest in peace) who got jailed for a murder case. I felt sorry for him and his family until somebody told me a few years after that his situation had been reversed. Where before it was his family that provided him with financial support, it soon became possible for him to provide his family with financial support instead. The business he was part of inside turned out to be lucrative for the participants.
Corruption in the implementation of the GCTA law is but one of the many money-making ventures by some of those handling our prisons. Of course, there are good people there, but even a dot could already mar perception on the whiteness of a sheet of paper.