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New Virac jail facility to ease congestion
posted 1-Oct-2019  ·  

Construction of a two-storey jail facility funded by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) will begin soon following the groundbreaking ceremony last week at a 2,000-square meter lot donated by the Virac municipal government.

A contractor from Albay, Sulvir Construction, won the bidding conducted by the BJMP regional office, with the P17.5-million project expected to be finished within 10 months assuming the weather cooperates.

A similar project at the San Andres district jail is about 82% completed and will be occupied by Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) before the end of December this year.

BJMP Bicol regional director Jail Senior Superintendent Cesar Langawin led the ceremony at the site last Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, together with Virac Mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 43 Presiding Judge Lelu Contreras, Councilor Robert Maullon, BJMP Catanduanes officer-in-charge Senior Inspector Emmanuel Arandia, Insp. Marben Cortes of Virac district jail, SJO4 Raymon Sanchez of San Andres district jails, and other jail officers.

In his remarks, Dir. Langawin said the Virac district jail is already too crowded for comfort with a population of 143 PDLs, considering the United Nations standard of at least 4.7 square meter of space per inmate.

He noted that the BJMP national headquarters has implemented measures to address the jail congestion problem, with BJMP Chief Jail Director Allan Iral allocating nearly P360 million in infrastructure projects for Bicol alone.

Admitting that senior officers rejected the present site earlier for security reasons, the jail director bared that once he saw that it was good enough, he asked the bureau’s logistics officer to gather savings from bidded projects until it grew to more than  P16 million.

The project will be followed by the construction of the second but smaller building, intended for female PDLs.

Jail officers, he stressed, take their responsibilities of humane safekeeping and development of PDLs seriously.

From simply warehousing law transgressors, the BJMP has focused on the development aspect, providing free education and livelihood opportunities right inside the jail, he said.

Langawin disclosed that PDLs from the island will again participate in a trade fair in a Legazpi City mall during the celebration of the National Correctional Consciousness Week, hoping to better its P104,000 sales generated last year.

The jail regional chief also lauded the local government unit for being very supportive of the BJMP, recalling the zero-casualty evacuation of PDLs in Virac during typhoon Glenda in 2014, and the holding of a medical mission inside the facility.

He likewise assured that people that the Good Conduct Time Allowance, which for him is a good law, is not being sold by jail officers in the Bicol region.

‘Hindi po kami nagkamali na mapalaya ang isang PDL, dahil sa pera o sa palakasan system,” he stressed.

In thanking the municipal government for donating the lot at Calatagan Tibang, Senior Supt. Langawin expressed hope that the current administration under Mayor Sarmiento would be able to provide funding for the perimeter fence.

He also urged support for the Run for a Cause of the Virac district jail set this Sept. 28, 2019, the proceeds of which will go to its rehabilitation programs.

Echoing the sentiment of Senior Insp. Arandia, Judge Contreras described the development as a dream come true, realized after a long journey.

She recalled the time the effort to find a new jail site began in 2010, as a proposed second floor for the existing jail was nixed due to foundation concerns.

Then Governor Araceli Wong considered the property in Casoocan, which turned out to have been given already to another agency, before Virac Mayor Samuel Laynes offered the back portion of the 3,000-square meter lot that was intended for a drug rehabilitation center but is now being used as a nursery.

Noting that a similar jail site in Camarines Sur was far more distant from the court than the Virac site, the RTC judge asked Langawin to reconsider its earlier position.

Addressing the Virac mayor, the RTC judge wished it would be better if the remaining 1,000 square meter portion and the existing building on it would be given to the BJMP once the first facility is completed.

She also bared that she is not in favor selecting only those to be granted the benefits of GCTA, particularly those guilty of heinous crimes.

“May pag-asa pa naman silang magbago,” Contreras said, noting that even hardened criminals have one ray of hope to change their lives.

In his response, Mayor Sarmiento said he is lucky to have such a facility begun during his term.

Recalling his visits to his client in jail, he described the situation of convicted criminal as much better than that of PDLs who should be considered innocent and are only in jail because they were unable to post bail or were unjustly accused.

It should be kept in the people’s hearts that PDLs are not guilty of the crime charged unless sentenced and that their situation should be improved, the mayor stated.

On the BJMP’s request, he said that it would be easy to convince the Sangguniang Bayan to grant it, considering that the budget for 2020 has yet to be crafted.

New facility still not enough

Under the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, a Type C dormitory good for one to 100 persons deprived of liberty is supposed to have a land area of at least 3,000 square meters, since the guidelines state that each PDL should have ideally at least 30 square meter of lot space.

The ideal habitable floor area per PDL is 4.7 square meters, while the maximum number of PDLs in each cell is 10, to occupy five two-level bunk beds.

According to the design of the new Virac facility, each of the eight dorms on each floor have an area of 48 square meters and overall only 80 PDLs would be accommodated according to the standard.

On the other hand, the second building has much smaller dorms at 22 square meters each and the six dorms can accommodate only 24 PDLs as per standard.

Thus, even if the two building are completed, the Virac district jail would have a standard capacity of only 104 PDLs.

Jail personnel, on the other hand, have been allocated two small rooms of 14 square meters each for their barracks.

Unless more funding is allocated and the remaining LGU lot and building are donated, the jail would not have the required administrative building, perimeter fence, infirmary, recreation hall, training center, workshop, kitchen, visitors’ area, conjugal rooms and reception/diagnostic center as envisioned under RA 10575.

Still, if completed, the two buildings would be a significant improvement over the existing jail inside the municipal compound that was originally built for 27 PDLs.

In 2014, the jail population in Catanduanes increased by 38 percent in 2014, with the island’s two district jails in the top three most congested jails in the Bicol region.

A report rendered by then BJMP regional director Jail Senior Supt. Ignacio Panti revealed that the average jail population in the Catanduanes BJMP rose from 80 in 2012 and 89 in 2013 to a high of 123 in 2014. Regionwide in 2014, the BJMP facilities released a total of 2,611 inmates for various reasons, but a higher figure of 2,905 detainees were committed during the same period.

In the list of 10 most congested jails, the Virac district jail occupied second place with a congestion rate of 770 percent while San Andres district jail followed closely at 765 percent. They were only eclipsed by the district jail in Labo, Camarines Norte, with a congestion rate of 890 percent.

The Virac jail was reportedly so congested that detainees have resorted to four-hour sleeping shifts.

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