The decades-old congestion problem at the Virac district jail will be erased permanently with the impending transfer of its long-suffering detainees to the new jail facility at Calagatan Tibang.
No less than the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Jail Director, Chief Superintendent Allan S. Iral, led the blessing and inauguration of the two (2) two-storey buildings behind the local government’s quarantine facility last July 27, 2022.
He was joined by Vice Governor Peter Cua, Virac Mayor Samuel Laynes, BJMP Regional Director Jail Senior Superintendent Felly Atienza-Cebuma, ARD for Administration JSSupt. Bernardo Sanchez, ARD for Operations JSupt. Ramil Vestra, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Clerk of Court Atty. Edielyn Valen who represented Executive Judge Genie Gapas-Agbada, DILG Provincial Director Uldarico Razal Jr., and BJMP Chaplaincy Service officer-in-charge JSSupt. Juan Buban, who spearheaded the blessing of the two buildings.
In his message, JDir. Iral said that the transfer of the Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) from the existing, overcrowded jail at the municipal compound will lower the congestion rate from 200 percent to negative 50 percent and provide wider space to PDLs.
“They might be deprived of liberty but it is our goal to provide them breathing and living space,” the general said as he lauded Mayor Laynes and the Virac local government for their invaluable support.
This would allow the bureau to focus on other interventions on the crushing effect of incarceration on the mental, physical, and psychological health of PDLs in order to allow them to gain a more hopeful perspective, he stressed.
Vice Gov. Cua, who represented Gov. Joseph Cua, commended the BJMP and the Virac LGU for their partnership that led to the construction of the new facility.
He remarked that as former mayor of San Andres, he saw for himself the need to replace congested jail facilities as the town’s district jail had 70 detainees crammed into a single room.
It was during his last term as chief executive that a new jail facility was built by BJMP in San Andres but its completion was delayed as funds had to be allotted for the construction of its perimeter fence.
On the other hand, BJMP-5 Dir. Cebuma disclosed that efforts to optimize logistical and financial resources of the bureau led to the new district jail, which she said will create an avenue to fully implement welfare and development programs for PDLs while ensuring their safety.
She thanked the Laynes administration for doing work on the landscape and cleaning of the site.
Recalling how the donation of the 2,000 square-meter site came to be, Mayor Laynes said there were initial roadblocks, particularly concerns about security, but these were finally overcome in 2019 with the support of Vice Mayor Arlynn Arcilla and the Sangguniang Bayan which approved the deed of donation.
He likewise bared that construction of a new police station building at the Community Hub in San Isidro Village has started while the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) is also asking the LGU for a lot at the hub for its own fire station.
In her message, Judge Gapas-Agbada reminded BJMP personnel of the need to maintain the safe custody of PDLs and provide for their welfare.
As of presstime, Virac jail warden Insp. Javier Kallos said that the detainees will be transferred to the new facility as soon as water and electrical connections are finished.
Mayor Laynes has already asked the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) and the Virac Water District to fast-track the connection of utilities to the compound.
Construction of the P17.5-million facility began in September 2019, with work undertaken by Albay-based Sulvir Construction but the implementation of pandemic restrictions by March 2020 led to the suspension of work on the project, with its workers repatriated to the mainland after subsisting on food assistance from neighbors and the LGU.
At the time, the existing jail had a population of 143 PDLs in an area so crowded that they had to sleep in four-hour shifts.
Absent from last week’s ceremony was retired RTC Judge Lelu Contreras, who spearheaded the effort to find a new jail site beginning in 2010 and asked the BJMP regional office to reconsider its position declining the Calatagan Tibang site due to security reasons.
New facility still not enough
Under the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, a Type C dormitory good for one to 100 persons deprived of liberty is supposed to have a land area of at least 3,000 square meters, since the guidelines state that each PDL should have ideally at least 30 square meter of lot space.
The ideal habitable floor area per PDL is 4.7 square meters, while the maximum number of PDLs in each cell is 10, to occupy five two-level bunk beds.
According to the design of the new Virac facility, each of the eight dorms on each floor have an area of 48 square meters and overall only 80 PDLs would be accommodated according to the standard.
On the other hand, the second building has much smaller dorms at 22 square meters each and the six dorms can accommodate only 24 PDLs as per standard.
Thus, even if the two building are completed, the Virac district jail would have a standard capacity of only 104 PDLs.
Jail personnel, on the other hand, have been allocated two small rooms of 14 square meters each for their barracks.
Unless more funding is allocated and the remaining LGU lot and building are donated, the jail would not have the required administrative building, perimeter fence, infirmary, recreation hall, training center, workshop, kitchen, visitors’ area, conjugal rooms and reception/diagnostic center as envisioned under RA 10575.
Still, if completed, the two buildings would be a significant improvement over the existing jail inside the municipal compound that was originally built for 27 PDLs.
At one point in 2014, the Virac district jail was the second most congested jail in Bicol with a congestion rate of 770 percent, followed by San Andres district jail at 765 percent.