Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Speech During the Parole and Probation Administration Seminar

I was invited as guest of honor for the welcome dinner during the In-Country Training on Volunteer Resource Development conducted by the Parole and Probation Administration in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute (UNAFEI). The seminar was aimed at enhancing the PPA's recruitment and training of Volunteer Probation Aides (VPAs). In attendance were the Regional Directors of the PPA, some VPAs and 8 probation officers from Japan. The event was held in the University Hotel, University of the Philippines, January 12, 2009.

To know more about the Parole and Probation Administration, visit www.probation.gov.ph.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Good evening.

Lately, controversy has hounded the country’s Justice System.

The celebrated case of the so-called Alabang Boys which came to the public’s attention because of the alleged bribery for their release, also revealed that the pillars of the criminal justice system are not as strong as we would want them to be.

One of the pillars, Law Enforcement, has been hounded for a long time by many flaws, although sincere efforts are being made to reform that sector. Considering the challenges and circumstances of law enforcement, it really is not a surprise that it is the most prone to attacks to its integrity.

But the most revealing, if not shocking, reality that the Alabang Boys case presented to us is that attacks on the integrity of the criminal justice system goes all the way to the prosecution of cases and probably even the courts. It is indeed a worrisome revelation, since if these allegations of malpractice of justice are proven, it could be considered a threat to democracy itself because justice is a necessary and crucial element of democracy.

If justice is flawed, how can one be guaranteed of life, liberty and equality?

In the discussions of the Alabang Boys case, there seems to be one other aspect that has been left out. Assuming that a solution has been found to address the problems of law enforcement, of the prosecution and of the courts, what about after an accused has been convicted? Can we say that our Corrections system is not likewise flawed?

I represent the Lone District of Muntinlupa City, where the national penitentiary, the Bilibid Prison, is located. In the close to eight years that I have served in this capacity, I have come to know the realities of life behind the Bilibid’s bars and walls.

One reality is that in the prison, not all inmates are equal. Some have better privileges, while many live a life of submission, hardship and social isolation. Some have airconditioned cells with all the comforts and appliances of home, while many don’t even have a space they can call their own to sleep in. Some continue the life of crime that they lived before they were incarcerated, while many have long repented and are on the way to a reformed life.

Another pillar in danger of crumbling is the Corrections, primarily due to the attitude that the government, and even the Community, has towards this crucial element in the Justice System.

This is already my third term as congressman, and for three Congresses, I have been pushing for the upgrading of the salary grades of our corrections officers or prison guards. They have long been left behind by their comrades in the other services such as the PNP, AFP and even the BJMP. The budget allocated by government for the maintenance, upkeep and expansion of prison facilities remain way below the ideal level. The food that is supposed to nourish the inmates do little to give proper nutrition.

Sadly, the Community, or society, does not see the corrections as something that would merit their concern. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Parole and Probation Administration

But there is one agency that provides a silver lining to our tarnished justice system. Without much fanfare but with the most noble objective, the Parole and Probation Administration is doing work that best exemplifies the mission of restoring order in a society that has been shattered by crime.

The PPA provides an opportunity for offenders who meet a certain qualification to be reintegrated back into society without the agony of prolonged incarceration. Sometimes, instead of reformation, being caged behind bars only drags a person further down the path of self-destruction and further away from family and fellowman.

The new lease on life provided by the parole and probation program enables a qualified offender to remain within the normal social sphere, thereby making immediate re-integration possible and seamless.

Of course, it is not difficult to appreciate that the program also prevents the further deterioration of our Correctional system in that it seeks to lessen the burden on the resources needed to keep an inmate in prison.

Thus, the importance and relevance of the otherwise low-profile agency that is the Parole and Probation Administration cannot be denied. While it may not garner the spotlight like other agencies do, and its officials will not get the public attention such as other officials have, its contribution to the strengthening of the country’s Justice System is one that should not be ignored.

The Volunteers

Now if we see the PPA as silver lining, there’s more to that agency that would merit the people’s accolade.

The agency’s use of Volunteer Probation Aides (VPAs) is indeed an approach that makes the PPA more effective. Not only do VPAs serve as a force multiplier, they also make reintegration into society a whole lot easier.

With the VPAs, pillars of justice come full circle--- it started with the Community (Community, Law Enforcemet, Prosecution, the Courts, the Corrrections), and it ends with the Community.  

As I mentioned earlier, the challenge for Corrections is that they have been relegated to being “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” by society. But with a program such as the VPA, the community can get involved and thereby have a direct hand in rehabilitating an offender. No longer will they be in danger of being pushed further away by an apathetic society, but rather embraced much like the prodigal son who returned to the arms of his forgiving father. We are, after all, one family, the Filipino Nation.

It is therefore imperative that such a program be given support and constant efforts to enhance its capability should be undertaken.

In this light, I commend the Parole and Probation Administration, with the cooperation and support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute (UNAFEI) for this endeavor of further developing the capabilities of our VPAs through this training on the Holistic Approach to Volunteer Resource Development.

While on its own, the PPA and the VPAs can stand and claim merit, there is always room for improvement and there is always something new to learn. Constantly looking for ways to serve our constituents better is the characteristic of a true public servant, and a tangible way of living up to the PPA’s slogan “Service Integrity is Our Passion.”

As you commence this training program, I urge you to seek a standard that will be high enough to make significant milestones but low enough to make it realistic. Bear in mind that the work you do is not for personal satisfaction and fulfillment, but for the redemption of a soul and the restoration of a society.

As I end, allow me to leave you with a personal note of appreciation for the work you are doing for our wayward countrymen. If there are people who provide a glimmer of hope for this nation, you are definitely included among them.

Thank you very much and may God bless us all. 

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!  

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