Price of freedom

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Releasing prisoners for good behavior is an ancient practice presaging the Christian concept of imprisonment and compassion. In Jewish law, selected prisoners are released during the Jubilee, the coronation of kings or special occasions to “appease the gods”.

I recall the times when prisoners with good conduct were released by presidential pardon on Independence Day, Christmas or the New Year. This practice continues to this day, but it now appears that the releases are done at whatever time the government decides. It is no longer publicized; we don’t know anymore when prisoners are pardoned or released on parole. However, we don’t mind because we have accepted this as a humane way of dealing with offenders to give them another chance in life.

We have not heard of this scheduled practice anymore but now we know that the government still frees prisoners under confidential situations. What we are hearing now are anomalous releases of prisoners for a fee.

We must accept the good that the releases bring aside from the humanitarian reasons. The grant of pardon to prisoners helps decongest our jails, one of the wretched in the world. We have seen video clips of what’s inside, including the cubicle or “private rooms” of wealthy or powerful inmates. Except for their opportunity to travel wherever they pleased, they live comparatively comfortable lives with television and video sets, music and even “assistants” to take care of their needs. These “amenities” cost money and indicate the flaw in the system and connivance of prison officials.

The recent investigations on the releases of prisoners showed its downside, the secrecy that has spawned corruption inside the justice system particularly in the Bilibid Prison.

There are scales of behavior that awards “good conduct” to merit a deduction of the years of imprisonment. What we don’t know is how this point system operates, who makes the ratings, and what behavior is worthy to be considered of merit. It appears that the system is subjective and gives prison officials a wide latitude of discretion and influence on the inmates. This is a cocksure road to favoritism, abuse, and corruption.

Over the last decade, more than 22,000 prisoners had been released. That is over 2,000 inmates annually almost as fast as the courts rendered judgment. While we do support the good that the early release brings to the inmate and the family, the freedom given to convicts of heinous crimes, to recidivists and organized crime is objectionable. Of course, some of them are given freedom when they are aged and sickly with little time left in life. This is another matter. They had paid for their crimes.

However, releasing prisoners who are still strong and hearty, is unacceptable. They mock the law and justice and inflict more pain to the family of their victims.

The Senate investigation now shows that there are monetary rewards for officials of the Bureau of Corrections for the release of the prisoners convicted of heinous crimes. As noted earlier, the implementation of the Good Conduct Time Allowance law is subjective and therefore prone to abuse. Now those released under this law are revealing the extent of corruption and the price they paid for their freedom.

We can believe in the idea that the more heinous the crime, the longer the sentence, and the wealthier the convict, the higher is the price for their freedom.

From the Senate investigation, we learn how corruption has inflicted the Bureau of Corrections. Even the president is convinced of this practice that he ordered that all the 1,914 heinous crimes convicts should report to the Muntinlupa prison within 15 days. As of last Sunday, 97 had already reported.

The investigation is still going on, but it is already clear that the implementation of the GCTA law has been abused for a price. It is still unclear who among those released are worthy to be freed but the fact is that corruption is rampant. Legislators are now convinced that there is a need to amend the law to prevent further abuse.

The prisoners who showed good behavior should be given a chance to live a normal and productive life. We know our justice system can be flawed and the police and the courts can err so we must render justice with compassion. But freedom for a fee is unacceptable.