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The BuCor controversy: Media must broaden the discourse | CMFR

The BuCor controversy: Media must broaden the discourse

Photo from BUCOR PIO Facebook page

HOW DO you solve a problem like the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor)?

The BuCor and the jail system it manages have been in dire need of solutions to longstanding and deeply rooted problems.

The Senate began marathon hearings on September 2 following the scandalous abuse of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) system, as well as other corrupt practices that seem to have been embedded in the agency. Responding to the public outrage over the release of convicted rapist and murderer, Antonio Sanchez, also former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee seemed bent on pinning blame and naming whose heads should roll. The purpose of Senate investigations is to aid law-making, through amendments or the creation of new laws.  As so much time has been given to the identifying culprits, the exercise seems pointless as the Senate does not hold judicial powers.

Unfortunately, most media reports did not do much more than to highlight what was said by whom in the proceedings, merely recording politicians talking about the obvious but never really arriving at any real solutions. Media’s fixation on the political show missed out on the real question: what can be done about a failed prison system?

The media failed to broaden the discourse beyond the exchange in the Senate, leaving out views and information that would otherwise have offered useful insights on the matter.

CMFR monitored reports from the three Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star); the free TV primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s Aksyon); as well as selected news sites from September 2 to 14, 2019.

Beyond quotes

The Senate inquiry made clear one thing: the BuCor issues are nothing new. The public needed new perspectives from which to examine the problem. The sessions indicated possible leads for more stories, such as structural deficiencies of the prison system and the source of so much corruption, extending privileges to wealthy convicts. But the media did not pursue any of these.

For example, the overcrowding of jails was cited as one of the issues justifying the GCTA so that deserving inmates could be released to make urgently needed space. Media had reported the horrifying conditions of jails in the past; but reports did not explore the failure to address this issue.

Deeper insights needed

The controversies surrounding the BuCor are manifestations of a deeply-entrenched systemic failure, which unfortunately persists to this day. But there was little effort to go deeper and steer the conversation to a more proactive direction.Penal systems have been studied by experts in various disciplines. This problem cannot be left to politicians, who given the responsibility of passing the national budget could have been engaged in the search for both short- and long-term solutions to this dire situation.

In 2014, Dr. Raymund Narag, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale, published in Rappler’s Thought Leaders an analysis of what ails the Philippines’ penal system. Narag pointed to factors such as the structural problems in jail facilities, prison dynamics and the myopic approach of government in dealing with issues (“heads must roll policy”). Put together, these perpetuate and normalize the culture of corruption in the system.

Nearly five years later, Narag’s examination of the failures of the system still holds true. A deep dive into the issue, following up with other views, is the kind of journalism that drives the discourse forward, and one that the media must be able to produce.

Narag’s study provides a framework for further exploration of the subject, lining up the questions that journalists must ask. What agency or agencies should produce a master plan that looks at the different measures required to rehabilitate the prison system? Have there been efforts to minimize cut down on its predatory and corrupt culture? Has the government acted on modernizing the BuCor and the jail system as provided by the law? These are some of the the questions that can be picked up in Narag’s article.

Expanding the discourse

The disarray at the BuCor has challenged governments, past and present. Lawmakers promised to continue looking into the issue, but it will take more than just a bureaucratic exercise to solve the mess. Hopefully, the media will be stirred to action and do their part.