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That otherwise securely-behind-bars prisoners are able to come and go as they please, clandestinely and brazenly, from their places of detention shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Just last year, such “internal arrangements” in the nation’s penitentiaries were targeted after Antonio Leviste, the former governor of Batangas who was convicted for the murder of his business associate Rafael de las Alas in 2009, was caught in a place other than where ought to have been, behind bars.
Bilibid-gate -- let’s call it that -- led to the review and revocation of “privileges” enjoyed by certain inmates, the primary qualification being their capacity to fork over small fortunes, and administrative actions against a number of prison officials.
Last Tuesday’s incident involving Rolito Go, who, in the grip of road rage, shot and killed then-25-year old engineering student Eldon Maguan in 1991, shows that, despite “reforms,” it is business-as-usual in Muntinlupa and elsewhere.
Go, who is serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of Maguan, mysteriously disappeared overnight, prison authorities reporting his “disappearance” shortly before midnight.
The next day, Go’s family came forward with a story that Go had been kidnapped right within the confines of the New Bilibid Prison; they claimed that the kidnappers were asking for a P1-million ransom for Go and his nephew.
The day after, though, Go surfaced in the custody of the Philippine National Police.
Tuesday was not the first time that Go had disappeared while under police custody: in 1994, he escaped from the Rizal Provincial Jail in Pasig city when his case was still pending. He was caught two years later in a piggery farm in Pampanga by authorities who, it was reported, he tried to bribe.
When he was caught, Go had grown a bushy mustache, the same one pictures of him now show, now old and grizzled, looking decidedly worse for wear after his supposed “abduction.”
Go, who suffers from colorectal cancer and sports a colostomy bag as a result, lives in a “luxury” hut – “luxury” being a comparative term -- inside the Bilibid compound where he is supposed to stay during the day, but come nightfall, he is supposed to bunk inside the minimum-security facility of the prison.
We now have cause to suspect if this directive is being followed to the letter, or if Go leaves his corpus in his private hut while his disembodied spirit floats and flits in his cell.
He is not, however, the first and only to enjoy most-favored inmate status. When Romeo Jalosjos, the congressman, was imprisoned for the sexual abuse of a minor, he received special treatment from prison authorities, a fact he admitted last year before a meeting with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, adding that, "I don't see why we should insist on the democratization of sufferings -- that if one suffers, you must all be suffering."
Another, and more famous, example of favoritism is that of Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
When he was criminally charged following his ouster from Malacañang, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allowed him to live in his rest house in Tanay during the pendency of his case. No doubt this was presidential precedent-setting: when it was Arroyo’s turn to face various criminal charges, she was allowed to stay in a hospital for medical and humanitarian reasons.
I have long known of the covert practice of allowing inmates to roam free despite supposedly being in detention. Years ago, a colleague served as a lawyer in a case involving a high-profile politician, wherein the latter was convicted by the trial court. The accused was duly sentenced and began serving his term. One night, my colleague was inside the cinema waiting for a movie to begin, yet waiting, too, a few seats away was no less than the politician my colleague helped to put behind bars.
In another case, a guard at the Women’s Correctional tipped us off at the office that an inmate, a notorious drug queen, was being allowed to leave the prison by virtue of a “special” arrangement with higher-ups. We asked our source to inform us of the next unauthorized “leave;” when our informant did so, we contacted authorities and, to make a long story short, put an end to the inmate’s excursions. This, too, happened way back.
Jalosjos’ theory of “democratization of suffering” puts a new spin on the twin concepts of crime and punishment. Basically, he says that for those who can afford it, imprisonment can be a much comfier arrangement and that one should not endure the hardships of conviction even though imprisonment is a penalty for committing a crime.
Eldon Maguan’s family is justified in being infuriated by Go’s preferential treatment, the latest example of a convicted child molester’s philosophizing during the long, lonely, climate-controlled hours of incarceration. Truth be told, I have never heard of democracy cited in such a way; this is the sort of thinking which ripens into acts that land one in jail, and while there, leads one to think that he, or she, can get away with it.
Entitlement is a mild way of putting it.