Miriam irked by ‘pork’ jail luxuries

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Questions have been raised about the alleged special treatment being accorded the senators accused of plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the senators should be treated just like every other person accused of a crime.

“Under the equal protection clause of the Constitution, all persons similarly situated should receive similar treatment. It does not matter whether you’re a Johnny caught picking pockets or a Johnny charged with plunder. All detainees and prisoners, whether common criminals or senators, should have the same accommodations,” she said.

Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., the first to be detained after turning himself in when the warrant for his arrest was signed, was placed in a special facility within the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame.

The newly constructed bungalow has among its amenities a shower and toilet in each cell.

Santiago also aired her concern about the reported special privilege granted to VIPs inside the New Bilibid Prison, including the use of cell phones and television and even access to sex workers.

“How can there be justice in our correctional system when we have a double standard between poor and rich inmates?” she asked.

It was earlier reported that convicted drug lord Ricardo Camata was granted unauthorized confinement at a private hospital. Surveillance videos at the hospital also showed that a starlet and some other women entered his room and stayed there for a significant period of time.

Some detainees also reportedly drive around the penitentiary grounds in golf carts and electric motorcycles and tricycles.

There were also allegations that the maximum security compound has its own dress shops, wet and dry markets, fruit stands, as well as facilities such jazz bar, plaza and tennis court.

“These prisoners are supposed to be experiencing punishment for their crimes, not taking a vacation. They are making a mockery out of the justice system by turning our jails into their own private resorts,” Santiago said.

“The same thing is happening in other prison complexes in the country. If this can happen in a maximum security compound, who knows what else happens in other jails?” she added.

The warrant for the arrest of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile, who have also been charged with plunder and graft over the pork barrel scam, could be issued anytime next week.

Enrile, who is 90 years old, has asked the court to grant him bail because of his poor health and advanced age.

House arrest

Estrada said that he would comply with the court decision regarding his place of detention, although he would prefer to be placed under house arrest.

Alexis Abastillas Suarez, one of the lawyers of Estrada, said they would file a motion for the senator to be detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s facility as soon as the warrant for his arrest is issued. She said they would also file a motion for bail.

In an interview over dwIZ, Suarez said they would argue that Estrada, as a senator, should not be placed alongside ordinary criminals, as it would pose a risk to his safety.

She said Estrada also wants to have a TV at his detention facility so that he could still monitor developments in the country in the performance of his duty as an elected senator.

Suarez said their request is reasonable since Estrada is considered innocent until proven guilty. She added that it would ensure that he could still exercise his legislative functions even in detention.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said there could be a valid reason why his colleagues should be separated from the other detainees, but what is more important is to see justice in action.

First meal

Meanwhile, like all other detainees at the custodial center in Camp Crame, Revilla had to eat rationed food.

“His first meal was monggo with ampalaya and fried alumahan. This morning he had lugaw with eggs for breakfast,” PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac said during a forum in Quezon City.

He said lunch and dinner yesterday consisted of paksiw (fish cooked in vinegar) and sautéed sayote, respectively.

“It was the same food rationed to the other detainees there,” he said.

He said the senator was still asleep when food was served.

Revilla stays in the custodial center that houses 74 “high security, high profile, and high risk” detainees, including communist leaders and generals, according to Sindac.

“Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos and Rizal Alih are still there. Even drug lords who are very notorious,” he added.

He said the other detainees are those seeking to become state witnesses.

Revilla’s chief of staff and co-accused, lawyer Richard Cambe, occupies a separate cell at the same detention facility.

Migraine attack

Sindac said Revilla had slightly higher blood pressure when he arrived Friday afternoon, and they had to allow medicine to be brought in since the senator feared his migraine could recur.

He said they also had to bring in an additional electric fan.

Revilla’s lawyer Salvador Panelo said his client has been suffering from migraine because of the heat in his detention cell.

“When I visited him at 12:30 p.m., he was watering the concrete floor outside of the detention cell to neutralize the heat. We requested to provide medium coconut trees in a pot and some plants and bushes so that they will absorb some of the heat,” said Panelo in a text message to The STAR.

He said Revilla’s family is thinking of asking the PNP to provide his detention cell with something to screen the “blistering heat.”

Bong is okay

Revilla’s wife, Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado, said the senator is doing fine after his first night at the detention facility.

“He is okay, he is happy that he has visitors and we are visiting him,” she told reporters after visiting her husband.

“We just brought him lunch today since we were allowed to do so yesterday. Please continue praying for him,” she added.

Sindac said Revilla’s lawyers, doctors and spiritual advisers are allowed to visit him during daytime. – With Reinir Padua, Mike Frialde












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