By Mario Casayuran
Senators led by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III assured on Thursday the Department of Justice (DOJ) that they have found funds for the full computerization program at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP). The program will be recommended as part of a bid to stop or minimize corruption and to access important data in a matter of seconds.
‘’Go full blast with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) computerization,’’ Sotto told Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
Sotto said Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon has discovered P6.7 billion from the proposed 2020 budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to finance the BuCor computerization program as forcefully pushed by Baguio Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong, a former PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) official that had crafted a plan to raid the BuCor that has become the den of Chinese and Filipino drug lords.
The P6.7 billion was to be used by Comelec but would be made available because of the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections originally scheduled in May 2020.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon and justice committees that resumed on Thursday its public hearing on widespread corruption at BuCor, emphasized that the BuCor law stresses that its computerization must be implemented.
DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he is enthusiastically supporting the computerization program for BuCor after senators gave their full support by providing the ‘’fiscal space’’ for such an important project.
Magalong said the problem plaguing BuCor is systemic, structural.
He identified several key areas that would improve the management of Bucor that supervises 27,000 inmates at the NBP alone.
One is the strict supervisory function of the DOJ over the Bucor and the other is management audit of the prison system. The third is that the Bucor leaders must be strict and strong while the fourth is provision of management tools such as the installation of high-technology equipment or closed circuit television (CCTV) at key buildings.
These improvements would offset the current situation at the NBP where money has a very corrosive effect on men, Magalong explained.
An ‘’AI’’ (artificial intelligence) technology CCTV can generate valuable and extensive record of the movement of persons at the NBP and information on their identities and activities could be accessed in a matter of seconds, Magalong said.
He told senators that the cost of such a technology is from P300 million to P400 million.
Though it may be expensive, the benefits are intangible, he added.
The former director of the PNP-CIDG told senators that several countries are now using such technology.
The Senate, according to Drilon, can find the funds to accommodate the project that is as important as the Magalong proposal.
Drilon, a former Senate President and a former Justice Secretary during the Cory Aquino presidency, said the AI technology should be supervised by DOJ and not by BuCor.
Magalong said corruption at BuCor is so widespread that operators of equipment supposed to jam electronic communications between drug lords and their cohorts outside the prison walls could be corrupted in a matter of months.
He said even cash vaults, drugs, cell phones, air conditioning units, jacuzzis and guns had been seized at the NBP, particularly at ‘’kubols’’ (exclusive huts for rich drug lords who pay a hefty sum for their use).