Practical solutions needed to address crowding in New Bilibid Prison | Inquirer Opinion

Practical solutions needed to address crowding in New Bilibid Prison

/ 05:00 AM October 17, 2023

There is nothing “new” in the New Bilibid Prison. Issues in our correctional facilities come full circle every so often. Reforms can hardly catch up with the systemic problems of decades past. It is always time for simpler and more practical solutions.

Let’s start with some statistics. Of the more than 50,000 persons currently sentenced to jail, two-thirds or about 33,000 are there mainly for three crimes—rape at 22.50 percent, drugs at 22.26 percent, and killings (whether murder, parricide, or homicide) at 21 percent. The next two causes of jail time are robbery (5.39 percent) and child abuse (4.45 percent).

It may be surprising that rape convictions outnumber those of drugs. It is a caveat that data are mostly gathered mechanically. For one, a person can be tagged for multiple crimes. The other crimes that are of any significance are kidnapping, carnapping, and theft, at less than 2 percent each, with the rest of the compiled crimes at less than 1 percent each, totaling 5.68 percent.

What does this tell us? Aside from general criminal laws mentioned in the Revised Penal Code circa 1930, there are more than 700 criminal laws or laws with penal provisions in the country. We add about 10 laws with imprisonment a year. This translates to only 22 or 3 percent of the total number of laws that have any real-life consequence, i.e., jail time. There is no one in the national penitentiary who was judged guilty of tax evasion, smuggling, corruption, or money laundering. It is very telling that such class of economic crimes are mostly investigated, perhaps with cases filed, but no conviction. There is impunity in the commission of economic crimes perhaps at par with other more common crimes of impunity—like extrajudicial killing.


The prevalence of economic crimes undermines society and exacerbates inequality. The rule of law is observed in the breach. Surely, our laws are not meant to be mindlessly passed by each Congress, knowing that they do not work.

To continue with the data, fully 60 percent of women deprived of liberty have committed drug-related offenses. Women, in general, are about three times less involved in violent crimes than men. There are those in prison for property crimes like estafa and violation of the anti-fencing law.

Because of the careless design of laws, we tend to use imprisonment as a policy tool to control aberrant behavior. The literature says this is wrong. A crime committed against property ought to be compensable by a multiple of the damage caused. The first line of approach to low-level drug users is treatment and rehabilitation. Only crimes that are of such nature that are morally reprehensible and utterly evil should lead to the individual’s removal and isolation from the community.

And yet within the New Bilibid Prison is another possible community. Ideally, it is one where a person deprived of liberty is placed in a better position to reflect, repent, and change his ways. In reality, he becomes hardened and learns about a different set of rules that govern prison life. Crime can thus become a livelihood for first-time offenders. Truly, prisoners are incarcerated a second time for life.


It need not be this way. We cannot continue with the old ways when they are proven to be ineffective. Mega prisons are a relic from the 1960s prison-building era and the 1980s global war on drugs, with its latest lethal reincarnation from 2016 to 2022.

Geronimo Sy

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TAGS: Letters to the Editor, NBP overcrowding, New Bilibid Prison

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