By URIEL C. QUILINGUING,
PRISON authorities have freed some 3,600 inmates in Northern Mindanao, most of them due to plea bargaining agreements.
Senior Supt. Ester Pepito, regional director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), said the number of inmates in the Bureau’s custody in the region dropped to 3,400 in October this year from 7,000 in 2017.
But Pepito, during the Talakayan forum at SM Downtown Premier on Monday, said the jails are still overcrowded even after the reduction on the number of inmates by more than half while many of those who have been released are undergoing or have undergone drug rehabilitation processes.
Plea bargaining for drug cases is allowed based on Circular No. 104-2019 which the Office of the Court Administrator issued on July 5, 2019, an offshoot of the Aug. 15, 2017 high court ruling striking down Section 23 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which barred plea bargain deals in cases involving illegal drugs.
Under the plea bargaining framework, an accused who just happened to visit a drug den during a raid or a person arrested in possession of less than a gram of shabu may be placed behind bars only for six months and a day and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P50,000.
“In 2017, before I was assigned here, the congestion in our jails was 900 percent and now it’s 189 percent congested,” said Pepito.
She appealed to local governments to provide the BJMP vacant lands so that they could either expand or open new male and female dormitory facilities for inmates.
She said the 3,400 inmates who are currently in the 24 jails would be there until the courts decide on their cases even if the BJMP is tasked only to keep those serving prison terms of three years or less.
“Mananatili po sila hanggang wala pang desisyon sa mga kaso nila,” Pepito told reporters. “Hanggang ngayon, mga 80 percent sa kanila ay may drug-related cases.”
For this, the BJMP, which operates under the Department of Interior and Local Government, is currently hiring for 2,000 jail officers effective July 2020, and some of them would be assigned in Northern Mindanao.
Pepito said BJMP-10 is expecting an allocation of 70 jail officers for 2020 after receiving only 17 this year since the current inmate-jail officer ratio in region 10 is 1:15 which is way below the ideal 1:7 ratio.
Meanwhile, the Cagayan de Oro City Jail’s male and female dormitories in Barangay Lumbia is jampacked with 1,400 inmates, and 130 male and female “boarders,” according to Jail Officer 3 Orly Vicente Montalban, the BJMP’s regional information officer.
Montalban said that while inmates at the city jail are segregated by the male and female dormitories which consist of 19 and nine cells, respectively, they are also keen on the special needs of the so-called “LGBTQIA” (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) sector.
Every inmate, he said, has been evaluated because there are instances when two persons should not be sharing the cell, citing a person accused or convicted for a crime and an active or former law enforcer who is under detention after having been sued.