With the signing of the revised rules on GCTA, it is hoped that our Justice and prison officials will work overtime like elves in Santa's workshop to bring the genuinely sick, infirm, old, terminally-ill prisoners home to their families this Christmas.
The President is correct - reboot the GCTA process and start with prisoners who, in addition to fulfilling all GCTA requirements, should be freed on humanitarian grounds.
But for the GCTA to be impartially implemented, it must be based on a list of those "who've been bad or good."
And this list must be vetted and verified by an outside, oversight body, and not by the foxes who've been let loose in the chicken coop.
The GCTA scandal should shed light on the high cost to taxpayers of maintaining our prison republic.
Based on 2020 proposed appropriations and projected inmate population, the annual cost of housing, feeding, guarding, and transporting one BJMP detainee will be about P101,887.*
Over at the Bureau of Corrections, it will be P91,407 per prisoner per year.**
A prisoner in any of the facilities run by the two has an annual food budget of P25,550, and P5,475 for medicines.
While the P70 budget for three daily "preso budget meals" is inhumanely low, it is still higher than the P18 per meal cost of the DepEd and DSWD feeding programs, which benefit 3.7 million children.
The annual cost of the 15-peso daily medicine allowance is twice the national government's per capita health spending of P2,638 for 2020.
A preso is a hundred-thousand-peso annual expense, a taxpayer burden that is four times the annual P23,125 price tag of sending a child to a public school or college.
But we can only decongest our jails, especially the ones run by BJMP - which is packing four times more prisoners per square meter of cell space than what is ideal - if the wheels of justice will turn faster, by more hands who will move it.
This can be done if we will hire more prosecutors, and give them enough resources as each grapple with an average of 196 cases; and more PAO lawyers, who have their hands full with attending to 5,237 clients each; and if we can finally fill the hundreds of vacancies in our lower courts and modernize their facilities at the same time.
The billions of pesos we pay for our prisons is the annual national penalty we pay for our slow justice system.
*BJMP Proposed 2020 Budget: P18,600,018,000 Projected Inmate Population: 182,556
**BuCor Proposed 2020 Budget: P4,297,047,000 Projected Inmate Population: 47,010
Source: Senate of the Philippines