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01 June 2011

DOJ fact-finding panel report on Bureau of Corrections


After careful evaluation of the documentary and testimonial evidence submitted, the Panel has come up with these findings:
On LEVISTE:
1. The Panel does not believe that there is no one in the BUCOR responsible for his escapes;
2. His reason for leaving the premises is so flimsy.  His claim of urgency to visit a dentist was belied by the fact that he was apprehended by the NBI operatives in his building in Makati City and not in a dental clinic.
3.    He was not candid to the Panel, as revealed by his refusal to answer the following questions:
3.1     . whether or not the 18 May 2011 incident was the first time he left the NBP premises without permission from the proper authorities;
3.2   . the length of time he stayed at his LPL Building on 18 May 2011; and
3.3   . whether or not he has received previous warnings from any BUCOR Official, particularly from Director Ernesto L. Diokno, regarding his unauthorized capers.
4. Based on his story, inmate  Leviste feels that he has become an official member of the BUCOR family; hence, he has this belief that he is free to go out of the NBP premises even without authority or permit. To the Panel, inmate Leviste has acquired or developed a twisted view of his prison condition.
5. He clearly took advantage of the lax security in the NBP Compound.  His vehicle went inside and fetched him unnoticed right in the reservation where his “Kubo” is located, and when he escaped from the NBP Compound on 18 May 2011 on board his vehicle, he was not subjected to inspection as he was in civilian attire.
6. He was enjoying VIP treatment as proved by the following facts:
6.1 The maximum 60-day period to stay at the Reception and Diagnostic Center (RDC) was violated because inmate Leviste stayed there for one (1) year and seven (7) months;
6.2 His transfer to the Agro Section was irregular and did not go through the usual process. It was based merely on his “One Billion Trees Project”, contrary to the existing practice that the grant of “sleep-out” privilege is based on skills. Also, eight (8) other minimum security inmates were granted the same privilege at his instance, and these inmates effectively became his helpers inside the reservation.
6.3 He was excused from reporting to the Minimum Security Compound for physical headcount (per Order dated 18 December 2010 approved by then Chief Superintendent Armando T. Miranda).
6.4 He did not observe the rules on visiting hours of the Bureau.
6.5 He was living alone in his nipa hut, which is bigger than that of the other eight (8) inmates that joined him at his instance, who were all living in one smaller nipa hut
On the IRREGULARITIES, ILLEGAL PRACTICES and OTHER PROBLEMS
1. Inmate Leviste was given a special or VIP treatment contrary to Prison Rules and Regulations.
The BUCOR Operating Manual provides that the stay of an inmate in the RDC shall not exceed sixty (60) days from the date of his admission. In the case of inmate Leviste, he was allowed to stay at the RDC for about one (1) year and seven (7) month starting 26 January 2009 to 3 August 2010.
Supposedly, inmate Leviste should have been transferred to the Minimum Security Compound from the RDC due to old age. However, he was directly transferred instead to the Agro Section by virtue of a letter-request by Mr. Marquez dated 7 July 2010, which was approved by then NBP Chief Superintendent Miranda on August 3, 2010. (In fact, according to Mr. Marquez, it was Miranda who asked him to prepare the said letter-request).
Moreover, the supposed practice is to consider the special skill of an inmate for purposes of assigning him to a particular section/project and for which he is given a “sleep-out” privilege. In the case of inmate Leviste, he was assigned to the Agro Section, not on the basis of special skill, but by reason of his “One Billion Trees” Project.
It was also shown during the proceedings that inmate Leviste was subjected to physical headcount only thrice a day either at the BRSS or at his place of assignment, which is clearly a violation of the rules and regulations that require an inmate to report to the Minimum Security Compound for “four (4) times a day or as often as necessary”.  In his case, the guards go to his place for the headcount. A “VIP”, indeed.
It was also established that he was allotted a nipa hut where he lived alone.  The hut had certain amenities (electricity, fan, refrigerator, restroom, with a wide window and a small veranda overlooking a pond) for a comfortable living.
2. Inmate Leviste was granted a “sleep-out” privilege without legal basis.
Some BUCOR officials insisted that the same is granted pursuant to the 1959 BUCOR Manual (Blue Book). But BUCOR is now strictly governed by the 2000 Operating Manual, and this privilege is not granted therein. Worse, only the NBP Chief Superintendent (Miranda, in the case of inmate Leviste) can approve this most special privilege and yet, the grant of lesser privileges passes through the Classification Board.
3. The “sleep-out” privilege given to inmates is prone to abuse as it provides a convenient avenue for escape.
“Sleep-out” inmates are not required to report to the Minimum Security Compound even during nighttime; hence, it is so easy for them to go out of the prison premises without being noticed.
4. The BUCOR officials and employees are lax in the implementation of prison rules and regulations.
It was discovered during the proceedings that there was no strict enforcement and implementation of the rules and regulations, especially the one on custodial and security matters.
5. The conversion of the NBP reservation camp into residential purpose and placing the same under the control of the NHA poses a big security problem.
6.The ratio of prison guards vis-à-vis the number of inmates is out of proportion: the present ratio is (1:81), whereas the reasonable and ideal ratio is (1:8).
On WHO should be held LIABLE and RESPONSIBLE
During the proceedings, nobody owned up any responsibility for inmate Leviste’s escape except the man himself. There were persistent unverified reports of his previous sneaking out from the prison compound, yet nobody took action to cause the investigation of these reported incidents and the cancellation or revocation of his privileged status as a ‘sleep-out” inmate.
Worse, given the raw information they received, they did not order a tight watch on inmate Leviste.
a. PGI Fortunato Justo
If PGI Justo fully discharged his duties as the custodian of inmate Leviste, the 18 May 2011 incident would not have happened.
As the custodian of inmate Leviste, he, at the very least, grossly neglected his duties when inmate Leviste escaped. He certainly was nowhere near Leviste when the latter escaped. His version of the 18 May 2011 incident is full of inconsistencies. His testimony before the Panel runs counter to his incident report, which casts doubt on the veracity of his claim that he was not remiss in the performance of his duties.
Despite instruction from Chief Rabo for him to immediately report to Director Diokno in the evening of 18 May 2011, PGI Justo, for reasons only known to him, did not report to Director Diokno as instructed. He only appeared before Director Diokno the following day, long after the discovery of inmate Leviste’s escape.
PGI Justo denied any knowledge on the reported sneaking-outs of inmate Leviste. However, ABS-CBN’s video footages clearly show that inmate Leviste had been sneaking-out from the NBP Compound several times even before he was finally caught en flagrante by the NBI operatives. These circumstances undoubtedly prove that PGI Justo was totally remiss in the performance of his duties as inmate Leviste’s custodian.
Finally, his questionable act of requesting the assignment of eight (8) inmates to help inmate Leviste in the Agro Section, knowing fully well that he had no authority to make such request, clearly establishes his unusual closeness to, and accommodation for, inmate Leviste.
b. Chief Superintendent Miranda
He clearly had a direct hand in the VIP treatment afforded to inmate Leviste.
First, he instructed Mr. Marquez to make the letter-request for the transfer of inmate Leviste to the Agro Section. It was the first time he made a request in favor of an inmate. Next, he himself approved the said transfer with concomitant grant of “sleep-out” privilege. The said privilege was irregularly granted because there was no prior determination of inmate Leviste’s skill to qualify him to the privilege and that the nature of his supposed work assignment, which is propagation of seedlings done only during daytime, would not justify the grant of “sleep-out” privilege.
Second, he approved the transfer of the eight (8) other inmates to the Agro Section to become the “assistants” of inmate Leviste thereat notwithstanding that the letter-request therefor was made by PGI Justo, who is not the proper authority to do the same. Worse, he knowingly approved said request despite that it was not first submitted through proper channels.
Third, he likewise approved the transfer of the conduct of physical headcount of the nine (9) inmates, including inmate Leviste, from the Minimum Security Compound to the BRSS or at the Agro Section, and allowed that it be conducted only thrice a day, contrary to existing rules and regulations.
Fourth, he did not cancel the “sleep-out” privilege that he granted to inmate Leviste despite the reports, raw or otherwise, of the latter’s alleged escapes.
Fifth, he did not establish counter-measures to prevent possible abuses, or, worse, escapes by the “sleep-out” inmates.
c. Chief Superintendent Reyes
He also clearly failed to exercise his duty when he replaced Chief Miranda as the Chief Superintendent of NBP as he did not cause the cancellation or revocation of the privilege status granted to inmate Leviste despite receiving reports of inmate Leviste’s out-of-jail trips. And like in the case of Chief Miranda, Chief Reyes also failed to lay down appropriate security measures to prevent the incident.
d. BRSS Chief Dante Cruz
He is likewise negligent in the performance of his duty, as the then Chief of the Minimum Security Compound who had the supervisory power and control over the inmates under his responsibility, by recommending for approval that inmate Leviste need not report to the Minimum Security Compound for physical headcount, in violation of the rules and regulations of BUCOR, and by reducing the number of headcount to three (3) times only, instead of four (4) times as required by the rules.
e. BRSS Chief and now Chief of the Minimum Security Compound PSII Rabo
He is likewise negligent when he did not take immediate action upon knowing that inmate Leviste was violating prison rules and regulations. Being the Chief of the Minimum Security Compound, he should have recommended the cancellation or revocation of the “sleep-out” privilege granted to inmate Leviste. His verbal instruction to PG Libo-on to talk to inmate Leviste is not the proper course of action given his position and authority. He should have taken it upon himself to personally conduct an investigation of the alleged report and order a closer watch on inmate Leviste.
Finally, on BUCOR DIRECTOR ERNESTO L. DIOKNO
a. The Role of the BUCOR Director in the National Prison System
Under the law, the BUCOR Director is charged with great responsibilities. He is tasked, among others, (1) to act as adviser of the Secretary of Justice on matters relating to the formulation and execution of penal policies, plans, programs and projects; (2) to administer and execute the laws relating to prisons and its inmates, and enforce the rules and regulations governing the operations and management of prisons; (3) to exercise administrative supervision of prisons; (4) to exercise supervision and control over the constituent units and personnel of the Bureau; and (5) to issue directives and instructions in accordance with the laws, rules and regulations that will effectively and efficiently govern the activities of the Bureau and its personnel.
b. Accomplishments of Director Diokno
Director Diokno assumed his post in October 2010.
According to him, he has, in his 7-month stay in the office, introduced certain reforms to address the problems on drugs, security, personnel and some administrative matters, to name a few, towards improving the conditions in the seven (7) penal establishments, especially the NBP. In support thereof, he submitted to the Panel copies of the Special Orders and Memoranda he had so far issued to implement these reforms (Annex “L”).
With respect to the drug problem inside the Maximum Security Compound, he caused the transfer of several high-profile convicted drug traffickers to the different penal colonies under the BUCOR.  To his credit, this bold move of Director Diokno has shaken the organized drug syndicate inside the NBP, even as this reportedly cost the life of the then Assistant Director for Security and Prison Rodrigo A. Mercado, who was assassinated on his way home last 6 May 2011.
By way of addressing the other problems relating to security and other concerns, he submitted to the Panel, among others, the following issuances:
1. Ordering the strict monitoring of high profile inmates;
2. Regulating the entry of individuals a the NBP Maximum compound through the control gate;
3. Prohibiting entry of ex-convicts in prison camps
4. Ordering the inspection of illegal shanties and stalls within NBP Reservation;
5. Total banning of cellular phones in the NBP ;
6. Reshuffling of high-ranking BUCOR officials;
7. Ordering the relief and re-assignment of guards at NBP; and
8. Reshuffling of gate guards to avoid familiarization with inmates and their visitors (Annex “M”).
The Panel does recognize the fact that Director Diokno has been only seven (7) months in office, and most of these big problems he inherited from his predecessors. Indeed, none of those enjoying the “sleep-out” privilege – 109 of them – were recipients of his benevolence. To be fair to him, he has not granted this privilege to any inmate. It is not unfounded to assume that he had good things in mind in order to reform and put order in the NBP. But it is just unfortunate for him that inmate Leviste’s undoing happened during his incumbency.
c. On inmate Leviste’s caper
It is here where Director Diokno, who admitted having received raw information regarding past escapes of inmate Leviste, that the Panel found the Director to have fallen short of what was expected of him.
While the Panel believes that Director Diokno had no direct participation in the escape of inmate Leviste, his failure to act decisively gave rise to the public perception that powerful personalities, like inmate Leviste, are receiving special or VIP treatment inside the NBP.
He said that he confronted inmate Leviste about this report of him sneaking-out of the prison compound.  But to the Panel, he should have done more than that.  It is quite clear to the Panel that Director Diokno did not give the report the attention, the seriousness and the urgency that it deserved.  It is as if he merely paid lip service to it.
Had Director Diokno taken seriously the reports (raw information), he would have, in all likelihood, discovered that, indeed, inmate Leviste was sneaking-out of the prison premises like he (Leviste) was doing something  very casual and ordinary, and one which he could do easily with impunity. At the very least, Director Diokno should have sensed some irregularities going on (i.e., possible corruption of some prison officials who might have been conniving with inmate Leviste), and he should have called on the Chief Superintendent to conduct an investigation of the prison guards in-charge of inmate Leviste, or conducted his own discreet investigation. It is for this most serious lapse of judgment, given his admission that he had raw information about inmate Leviste’s past capers, that Director Diokno is mainly being faulted by the Panel. It is a failure that reflected on his leadership and effectiveness as a Director.
This recent escape or caper of inmate Leviste could have been prevented had Director Diokno, exercising his powers as Head of BUCOR, ordered the immediate revocation, or himself revoked outright, the “sleep-out” privilege of inmate Leviste.  Or, at the very least, he should have ordered a tight watch on inmate Leviste.
The Leviste incident has reached such a scandalous proportion that the BUCOR Director and the other officials, by treating the raw information about the past capers of inmate Leviste so lightly, did not anticipate to explode before them.
d. His misconception of the true nature of his functions
Director Diokno asserted that his function as BUCOR Director is limited only to policy-making and to being an adviser to the Secretary of Justice.
The Panel believes that Director Diokno misconstrued the nature of his functions as BUCOR Director. The BUCOR Operating Manual clearly states that the functions of BUCOR Director include not only policy formulation but also execution and administration of penal policies, plans, programs and projects, and laws relating to prisons and the inmates and enforcement of rules and regulations governing the operations and management of prisons (Book II, Section 2).
Evidently, Director Diokno has the power of control over the entire Bureau, including the power to cancel or revoke the “sleep-out” and other privileges granted to inmate Leviste.
Holding office inside the New Bilibid Compound itself, he should have seen for himself the poor security arrangements in place and the porous surroundings of the compound, especially in the Agro Reservation Area and the minimum security compound. That he just happens to hold office inside the premises of the New Bilibid Prison is no excuse for him to have not introduced immediate measures to address this very evident security problem. On the other hand, his holding office there should have granted him the golden opportunity to improve on the existing security conditions (e.g., the main gate being like a plaza gate) that were right there before him.
Verily, Director Diokno did go beyond just policy-making as he actually exhibited, in some instances (as in the drug-trafficking activities inside the NBP), toughness and decisiveness. He relieved PSIV Miranda as Chief Superintendent and reshuffled the BUCOR personnel, and for this, the Panel credits him. But his admission that he had information about inmate Leviste’s past escapes, no matter how raw the information was, should have prompted him, first, to take action to find out the truth behind the reports, and second, to set up measures to prevent any escape from happening.
RECOMMENDATIONS:
By way of prefacing our recommendations, the Panel observed that Leviste’s “caper” exposed to everyone a most unusual – even bizarre – state of affairs in the NBP. Perhaps, in no other national jail can one see a prison compound where anyone – as in anyone – can freely get in and out of the prison compound without being noticed. Ride any vehicle, which is left unchecked, and easier will be the access to and escape or exit from the compound. Pass through the main gate of the NBP and the unhampered entry or exit of any vehicle is guaranteed almost a 100% success.
There is another strange feature of this facility, particularly in the Minimum Security Compound. In there, inmates mix freely with non-inmates, visitors, employees of BUCOR and their families, and the residents in the nearby housing projects.
The compound is almost akin to an open community; the atmosphere there is something else other than that of being inside a jail compound. This is not a restricted area, certainly not a closed environment.
In other words, there are almost no security measures in place. Worse, the perimeter surrounding the Agro Section inside the compound is so porous and virtually open to the outside world that escaping or sneaking-out on foot for an inmate is no big deal.
Other problems and issues affecting the BUCOR also came to the fore as a result of the intense national attention given to BUCOR, thanks to the Leviste incident. The Panel realizes that we have a defective and flawed system that has long plagued the BUCOR.  Graft and corruption appear to be so rampant, and even the lowliest guard seems to be on the take or engaged in shady deals that flourish by exploiting the misery and the helplessness of some inmates. There is the most serious problem of congestion and disease, and prisoner food not even suitable for canine consumption. There is the “kubol” system that could not be dismantled. But these and the other problems the Panel would not delve into, even as they surfaced as an accidental offshoot of the Leviste incident.
Our recommendation must only necessarily relate to the flaws and defects in the BUCOR system that allowed, even fostered, the Leviste incident to take place.
I. Administrative Reforms:
1. Install additional security personnel to meet the ideal ratio of 1:8 (current ratio of prison guards to inmates is 1:81). However, given the budget limitations of BUCOR, it is recommended that members of the AFP or PNP be tapped in the meantime to augment the existing security personnel requirement of the BUCOR;
2. Install CCTV cameras at all gates of the NBP reservation area to ensure that the movement of persons and the entry of the vehicles entering and going out of the NBP reservation area are properly  monitored and recorded;
3. Conduct regular orientation, trainings and seminars to enhance the capabilities and professionalize the prison guards and custodial officers of the BUCOR in the proper discharge of their duties and functions;
4. Ensure strict enforcement of prison rules and regulations governing vehicles and visitors control;
5. Construct perimeter fences to segregate the NBP Compound from the housing projects inside the reservation area or transfer the prison facilities to a more secure site, where inmates cannot easily mingle with civilians or return the exclusive control of the NBP reservation area from NHA to BUCOR. The planned transfer of the NBP to different sites should now be urgently re-studied and given national priority;
6. Device a way to improve the means of identifying and monitoring “living-out” inmates other than through prison uniforms;
7. Revisit and amend, if necessary, the BUCOR Operating Manual to cope up with the demands of present situation; and
8. Regular reshuffling of prison guards in the NBP to avoid their developing a familiarity or closeness with the inmates under their custody.
II. Liabilities of Responsible BUCOR Officials and Employees
(a) Conduct formal investigation for administrative actions for MISCONDUCT, NEGLECT OF DUTYand CONDUCT PREJUDICIAL TO THE BEST INTEREST OF THE SERVICE against the following:
1. PSIV ARMANDO T. MIRANDA
2. PSII Chief Superintendent RAMON M. REYES
3. PSII Chief DANTE D. CRUZ
4. PSI ROBERTO R. RABO
5. PGI FORTUNATO JUSTO

(b) Pending investigation, the panel further recommends that the above-named officials and employees be placed under preventive suspension taking into account the gravity of their acts and omissions in the discharge of their respective duties.
(c) Conduct preliminary investigation for criminal action for INFIDELITY IN THE CUSTODY OF PRISONER against PGI FORTUNATO JUSTO.
(d) Finally, with respect to Director ERNESTO DIOKNO, a presidential appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President, this Panel leaves it in the hands of His Excellency whether he be formally charged for Neglect of Duty (and be preventively suspended or asked to take an indefinite leave of absence), or, without formal charges, be replaced immediately based on the President’s prerogative over officials serving at His pleasure.
Respectfully submitted.
28 May 2011, Manila, Philippines.