By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The recent revelation about corruption in the Bureau of Corrections, specifically the National Bilibid Prison, is not new nor shocking to anyone who is familiar with our prison system. Prison officials use the gangs to maintain peace and order in the jail compounds. In fact, anybody who is imprisoned has no choice but to join a gang because all the buildings are controlled by gangs.
Neither is the revelation that money changes hands to get privileges surprising. In fact, there have been so many high profile convicts before, such as former representative Romeo Jalosjos, who were featured having luxuries inside jail. That is why the relatives of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre have cause for worry. What is quite new is the granting of living out privileges to those who could pay, such as former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste. Living out privileges used to be given only to those who are about to be released or long-time prisoners who are sick and old. That is why when the investigation centered on how he was able to leave the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) compound undetected is misdirected. The real issue is how he got living out privileges in the first place.
As for the bidding war between drug syndicates as to who gets to control the drug trade in the NBP and who gets exiled in penal colonies, it also did not come as a surprise. Everybody knows that the drug trade is flourishing within the walls of the NBP.
Now, Bureau of Corrections chief Ernesto Diokno has resigned and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is leading the justice department’s investigation on this issue. Can the people now expect that corruption in the National Bilibid Prisons would be solved? Far from it.
President Benigno Aquino III even thanked and practically cleared Diokno without the benefit of an investigation into his role in the corruption cases inside the bureau, just like what the president did when his other friend Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno was accused of accepting jueteng payoffs. Apparently this is also what is happening in the case involving his shooting buddy Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres. He even announced last June 7 that Torres is returning to her post. Only a week ago allegations surfaced that the eventual absolution of Torres from the Stradcom takeover fiasco was one of the reasons for the resignation of Department of Transportation and Communications Sec. Jose “Ping” de Jesus and three of his undersecretaries.
As for the investigation, there is not doubt that Justice Sec. Leila de Lima is determined to do well in her job but she has her hands full with so many cases. It seems that the only credible Cabinet official to handle high profile, controversial cases is Sec. De Lima. Every time a fiasco or a corruption scandal involving government officials hits the headlines, Sec. De Lima is given marching orders to head an investigation. How far could she go in each and every case she is handling? And if she does come up with an investigation report, and if it points to the culpability of Aquino’s friends, would the president follow her recommendations? How President Aquino reacted to the report of the investigation on the blundered operations during tne August 23, 2010 hostage taking is instructive of what might happen again: President Aquino would accept the report and absolve his friends.
Those who voted for Aquino because of his strong anti-corruption stand have every reason to be frustrated and disappointed. It has almost been a year since President Aquino took over the reins of government and yet, corruption is far from being eradicated. Sure, there have been a lot of exposés. And in the more recent cases, the names of the current president’s friends have surfaced.
While exposés are important, it does not solve the problem of corruption. Not a single high government official of the previous Arroyo administration has been brought to justice to account for the massive corruption that happened before. And the Aquino government has not shown the political will to run after them. Only private individuals such as lawyer Frank Chavez and groups like Bayan have filed cases against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo while the Aquino government seems to be taking its sweet time even after Merceditas Gutierrez, the friend of the Arroyo family, had been removed from the office of the Ombudsman. Without the Aquino government demonstrating its resolve to run after those involved in graft and corruption, corruption would persist.
Worse, the Aquino government has even shown that it is willing to readily absolve the president’s friends who have been accused of wrongdoing. Time and again, the Aquino government has been criticized for appointing the president’s friends to Cabinet positions even if they do not have the necessary qualifications. And these criticisms have been dismissed not only by Malacañang but also by its friends in media. They justify this by saying that it is just normal for a president to appoint those he trusts. Well, look at what is happening now. There is truth in what former president Joseph Estrada said before – even if he did just the opposite – “Walang kaibi-kaibigan, walang kama-kamag-anak.” (There should be no favor for friends or relatives.)
This also goes to show that replacing corrupt officials with one’s friends does not solve the problem either. On the contrary, it makes it worse.
Corruption is systemic in this country and it would take more than replacing people in government to solve it. There should be justice, and there should be a radical overhaul of the political system. Without these, the promise of change that Aquino’s political party used to get elected is just empty rhetoric.