Editorial: Questions from Bilibid

More questions have escaped the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the Bureau of Corrections’ (Bucor) headquarters in Muntinlupa City following the apparent murder of the national penitentiary’s inmate Cristito Villamor Palaña, also known as Jun Villamor. And an investigation is needed for authorities to arrive at the answers.

These questions stemmed from Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla’s revelation that 30 corpses from the Bilibid have been discovered in a funeral home accredited by the NBP. And these are not the only questions that need answers: What are the profiles of the dead persons deprived of liberty (PDL)? What is the nature of their deaths?

Remulla said in the Tuesday press conference that they had uncovered the corpses while investigating the death of Palaña, the alleged middleman who contacted gunman Joel Escorial to kill broadcaster Percival Mabasa, who was known as Percy Lapid to his listeners.

Apart from the 30 corpses, a GMA News report revealed that 176 remains of PDL brought to the funeral parlor have been unclaimed since December last year. It quoted the funeral home manager as saying that the PDL supposedly died of natural causes, while a number were autopsied.

To clear all doubts, Remulla must also order an investigation on these unclaimed remains. Did they really die of natural causes? Why are the bodies still not claimed by kin?

If there is nothing mysterious surrounding the PDL’s deaths, there is still something wrong with Bilibid. If they all died due to illnesses, then there is something wrong with the correctional facility’s medical services.

The public must be worried about Bucor’s state as it is part of the five pillars of the criminal justice system.

The corrections pillar is the fourth pillar. It takes over once the accused, after having been found guilty, is meted out the penalty for the crime he committed, according to the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. The first three pillars are law enforcement, prosecution and courts, while the last pillar is the community.

Bucor, an agency under the Department of Justice (DOJ), is charged with custody and rehabilitation of national offenders—those sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of more than three years.

How can PDL be reformed if they are in a prison system that is perceived as corrupt? Would communities be safe after PDL are released from a rotten penitentiary?

Granting that an offender has been rehabilitated during his stay in the national prison, he would be of no use to the community if he dies while serving his sentence.

The DOJ investigators must uncover the truth so the government can instill reforms and straighten the penal system. The clamor for penal reforms begs another question: When will it happen? Reforming the national penitentiary is a colossal task that begs laser focus and not just mere lip service.