THE BUREAU of Corrections (BuCor) plans to tap experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Urban and Regional Planning for its proposed new headquarters (HQ) within a 270-hectare section of the Masungi Georeserve, the country’s prison chief said on Monday.
“We also need the area, but it will be pro-environment I assure you,” BuCor Director General Gregorio P. Catapang told a livestreamed news briefing in mixed English and Filipino.
“We will not cause harm to the environment,” he said.
The Masungi Georeserve — located in Baras, a town just east of Metro Manila — is a conservation area and park. An ongoing reforestation project in the area is positioned to protect the Upper Marikina Watershed, which is critical to protecting the capital region from flooding.
Mr. Catapang said their construction plan, which will be subject to consultation with the university’s experts, includes the development of farmlands to boost food security in the country.
He stressed that the new complex would help decongest the national penitentiary and regionalize the country’s prisons. BuCor also eyes building housing and training facilities for its personnel in the area.
On Feb. 17, the prison bureau said it could construct its new headquarters at Masungi, claiming that the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had awarded 130 hectares of the property to BuCor.
In a statement last week, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation said the prison relocation project went against the nation’s sustainable development agenda. It also said the area supposedly awarded to BuCor is “mountainous and geologically unbuildable.”
The foundation asked President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and other state officials to stop the project after 20 BuCor personnel inspected the conservation site on Thursday.
“There are many viable alternative sites elsewhere,” it said.”Masungi is a priceless legacy of the nation that should be preserved at all costs instead of destroyed.”
Meanwhile, more than 400 prisoners were released by BuCor on Monday as part of its ongoing efforts to decongest one of the world’s most crowded jails.
At a livestreamed ceremony, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla said the government eyes freeing inmates every month.
“Freeing our countrymen who have paid their dues to society is a good thing we are doing,” he said in Filipino. “We won’t stop this as long as I am Justice secretary.”
He reiterated the government’s plan to construct more regional jails to decongest the national penitentiary and to allow more families to visit inmates.
Last year, Mr. Remulla told the United Nations Human Rights Council he seeks to release 5,000 inmates by June this year.
Many of the country’s jails fail to meet the UN’s minimum standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch
“To the inmates who are being released, we hope that you do not waste this opportunity to move forward in life,” Mr. Remulla said.
In another development, the Department of Justice (DoJ) on Monday issued new guidelines on bail amounts for indigents who are not under trial for crimes punishable by death and life in prison.
In a statement, the department said poor Filipinos would only have to pay half of the recommended bail or P10,000, whichever is lower.
The measure stemmed from Mr. Remulla’s meeting with Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, who proposed a revision of the DoJ’s existing 2018 Bail Bond Guide.
“With this newest policy, the department expects the release of many detained individuals on bail,” the DoJ said.
The new guidelines would help clear court dockets and accommodate cases backed by credible evidence, it added. — John Victor D. Ordoñez