Abortive jailbreak a blow to Manila's image

Updated On: Mar 18, 2005

Manila-A 30-hour jailbreak attempt by 129 Abu Sayyaf militants which ended in a bloodbath has turned into aninternational embarrassment forPresident Gloria Arroyo's government. For the incident, said the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “allowed the whole world to see how lax and how inefficient our jail officials can be in handling even the most dangerous criminals”.

Twenty-eight people were killed after some 300 police special forces members stormed the four-storey building at the maximum security prison that the Abu Sayyaf inmates took over early on March 14.

The dead included the notorious “Commander Robot” and two other top leaders of the Abu Sayyaf who masterminded the abortive escape. Commander Robot, whose real name was Galib Andang, gained international infamy, for his role in raiding resorts in Malaysia’s Sipadan island in April 2002, seizing 21 mostly European hostages.

While Philippine Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes lauded the security forces’ success in ending the uprising, many analysts said it was a jailbreak attempt that should not have happened in the first place.

According toreports, the prison authorities had been warned that an escape attempt was brewing

A commentary in The Philippine Star said: “It is definitely a case of severe negligence. Prosecutors in the Department of Justice claim that they had intercepted a cellphone conversation between the Abu Sayyaf prisoners and outside. Could prisoners have cellphones without the knowledge of the guards?

“The worst part is that the Department of Justice had warned the jail officials that there would be an jailbreak attempt. Who should be held responsible for ignoring the warning? The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) or the Philippine National Police personnel?”

However, Mr Arturo Alit, BJMP’s director, blames this - and previousjail outbreak attempts - on the lack of equipment, manpower and resources.

“All our structures and facilities are really escape-prone. All our jails nationwide are in a terrible state of dilapidation” said Mr Alit, who is under fire for the Abu Sayyaf prison revolt.

He said mistakes could not be avoided, because of the bureau’s limited budget and shortage of manpower.

“We are given a1.9 billion-peso budget but the public is asking us to come up with a 7-billion peso accomplishment,” he said.

*Maximum security or escape opportunity (The Philippine Star, March 17)

* Alit: Jails escape-prone (The Manila Times, March 17)

* Cleaning up (Philippine Inquirer Service, March 17)