If freedom is for sale at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) compound in Muntinlupa, then special accommodations and privileges must be for sale there, too.
For starters, there are reports that certain prisoners inside the NBP compound are stealthily released at night by corrupt prison officials and instructed to liquidate certain individuals. The convicts then return to the prison, get paid, and are given special privileges. Thus, even if the convicts are identified by eyewitnesses, they have a solid alibi — they could not have possibly committed the murders attributed to them because they have always been in prison.
There is another account of an ex-provincial governor serving time for homicide. On a day when he was supposed to be inside the NBP compound, he was seen alighting from a private vehicle in Makati. Since there was no news earlier that day of any jailbreak involving the ex-governor, he gave the lame excuse that he was on his way to his dentist for treatment, supposedly with the consent of prison officials. He was, however, unable to explain why he hardly had any NBP armed escorts with him, as NBP medical protocol requires.
Another account is about a former ranking government official who exploited the proximity of a residential village to the NBP compound. Some of these houses are next-door neighbors of the prison compound itself, with only the prison perimeter wall separating them.
With the nod of corrupt prison officials, the convict made arrangements with the owner of one of those houses. The convict had a hut made right beside the wall separating the prison compound and the selected house. Inside the hut, a concealed door was built at the wall to allow the convict access to the house. Once inside the house, the convict had all the comforts of home — a private bathroom, a private air-conditioned room, catered food, etc. On certain occasions, the convict could go to the nearby mall by exiting through the front door of the house.
When Leila de Lima was the Justice secretary, the media revealed that several drug lords serving time at the NBP compound were given special accommodations like air-conditioned quarters, private comfort rooms, catered food, television sets, mobile phones, laptops, dangerous drugs, firearms, liquor, gambling paraphernalia, cash and hired entertainers.
Witnesses in the ensuing investigation testified that the drug lords paid De Lima millions of pesos in exchange for the special accommodations.
De Lima had a difficult time denying the accusation because the special accommodations were documented. Besides, as Justice secretary, she was expected to know what’s actually taking place in the national penitentiary.
Ex-Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez appears to be another example of special treatment inside the Muntinlupa prison.
Sentenced to seven life sentences in a rape and double-murder case, and convicted as well in a separate criminal case for double murder, Sanchez qualifies as a maximum security prisoner. Accordingly, he should be rarely allowed to leave his prison cell.
For reasons NBP officials have yet to explain, Sanchez was treated more as a prison official.
Photographs of Sanchez at the NBP compound published in newspapers reveal that whenever the ex-mayor takes walks inside the prison compound, he is not even handcuffed. The jailers around him look more like his paid hacks ready to obey his every command.
Inmates, especially maximum security prisoners, must wear the prescribed prison uniform to prevent them from mingling with any crowd and escaping in the process. Sanchez does not wear the prescribed prison uniform. He is often in casual attire, and wears leather shoes, a wristwatch and sunglasses.
His cell looks like a comfortable place, with a large bed and appliances for his use. It certainly isn’t a typical prison cell.
Prison officials should have already cleaned up the mess at the NBP compound when the special accommodations of the drug lords were first exposed.
The fact that special treatment for influential prisoners is still taking place at the NBP compound today should be enough reason for President Rodrigo Duterte to break up the syndicates there responsible for these anomalies. Everyone must go.