BETING DOLOR: No wonder they prefer to stay inside

In a perfect world, any person who commits a serious crime must pay, usually in the form of a prison sentence. The length of the sentence depends on the nature of the crime that he or she has committed.

As everyone knows by now, the Philippines is one of the most imperfect countries in the planet. There is supposed to be a justice system that punishes criminals, but revelations of the past few weeks have shown that some wrongdoers actually end up being rewarded by a prison sentence.

The New Bilibid Prison AKA the national penitentiary is where those convicted of various types of crimes are placed in order to pay their debt to society.

In fact, the opposite is true.

It has long been known that some convicts are treated as VIPs inside the penitentiary. In the past, there have been cases of rich or well connected criminals – I refuse to use the euphemism PDL or person deprived of liberty – living it up inside.

A political figure even built himself a tennis court and a burger joint. Another was known to leave the premises whenever he felt like it. Yet another convict built himself a recording studio and released some of his songs to the public. He even reportedly scored a hit.

One very notorious killer was seen not only outside ‘Munti’ as it is known but was seen in the South, working as an assassin, reportedly for politicians as well as for the military. When his contract was done, he would head back to Bilibid, almost certainly with a fatter bank account than when he left.

So it was that in the past month or so, and as a result of the investigation on the killing of popular radio commentator Percy Lapid, what was discovered was not just a can of worms, but an entire pit of vipers.

First it was learned that someone inside had given the word that Lapid was to be killed, and the handpicked assassin received a little more than half a million pesos to complete the deed.

This seems like a plot of a Hollywood gangster movie, doesn’t it? But it was real, it actually happened.

And when the killer was forced to give himself up after his face was caught by CCTV cameras, he revealed the name of the middleman who had gotten in touch with him. That middleman was strangled to death on the same day that his identity was made known.

Ah, but the plot thickens.

With the head of the Bureau of Corrections – which runs the country’s prisons, of which Bilibid is the largest – suspended on suspicion that he was the mastermind of the Percy Lapid killing, it was then found out that “entrepreneurs” inside the pen were making big money selling everything from beer to cell phones to tablets to firearms to drugs.

Anything and everything illegal could be had if the price was right.

Cans of beer sold at 20 times their regular retail price outside, but there was no shortage of buyers.

One would think that gambling paraphernalia would be among the common items smuggled in by friends and relatives of the inmates. That would be small fry. It later turned out that fighting cocks as well as race horses were kept inside, too.

And let us not forget the pet snakes that were also discovered.

And it gets better and better, folks.

The suspended BuCor chief, it turned out, had excavated a large parcel of land inside the Bilibid. When this was discovered, he sang different tunes.

First he said he was having a deep swimming pool built. In fact, it was envisioned to be the deepest pool in the country. His reason? He was an avid scuba diver, he said, and he was also planning in using the deep pool to train some of his people in the fine art of emergency rescue.

But why was there a tunnel being built at the site?

The Justice secretary said he was told by the suspended prisons boss that he was actually searching for buried treasure. He was looking for the fabled Yamashita’s treasure, no less.

Oh, the suspended boss had also paid a private company to take care of the bidding because he said he had the authority to do so, without having to inform the justice secretary or the president of the Philippines.

His lawyer would add that the BuCor chief was actually planning something that had never been done before, anywhere and anytime. Mr. Prisons chief was going to convert part of the place to a business center!

Sorry, folks, but that exclamation point was absolutely necessary.

If all this seems too much to take, that’s because it is. Mind-boggling doesn’t even begin to describe the situation inside the pen.

One has to wonder how all this craziness can happen in one prison. It is something that cannot physically happen in the legendary US prisons of decades past, like Alcatraz or Singsing.

The reason why became clear to yours truly after an aerial shot of the New Bilibid Prison was shown. The place is absolutely huge. It’s an entire barangay, ladies and gentlemen. That’s village for all the non-Pinoys reading this.

What happened was that the national penitentiary had become the private fiefdom or kingdom of the director general of the NBP. He tolerated everything, and common sense says that he was getting a piece of every pie inside, be it legal or illegal.

For as long as one was a member of a gang, and as long as that gang played footsie with the big boss, the pen could be a paradise.

Incidentally, it goes without saying that ladies of the night were also available inside, again if the price was right. So if a can of beer goes for a thousand bucks, imagine what a quick roll in the hay would go for.

This is one reason why jailbreaks have become rare these days. There can be no Escape From Alcatraz scenario because it’s so much better to stay inside.

It goes without saying that the suspended chief did not turn the NBP into his private kingdom overnight. The current situation has certainly been going on for several years now, if not decades.

The best proposal to come out of the recent revelations is to build a real, honest-to-goodness, maximum security prison, with inmates who committed lesser crimes being kept in separate facilities away from the hardened criminals.

One proposal was to either convert an old Navy ship to a floating prison, or to build one in an island like Corregidor. It would be in a shark-infested area to dissuade anyone from thinking of escaping.

It must be made clear to anyone thinking of committing a heinous crime to think twice. Because in a perfect world, crime does not pay. Even in the Philippines. Right, folks?