By Darwin Wally T. Wee / Philippines News Agency
THE oldest penal colony in the country, the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City, is being eyed for relocation to give way to the establishment of an industrial park.
This, as officials from the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone Authority and Freeport (Zamboecozone), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) are expected to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOU) for the relocation of the century-old prison farm outside of Zamboecozone’s 664-hectare second industrial park.
Christopher S. Arnuco, Zamboecozone chairman and administrator, said on Monday they are preparing all the necessary documents, following their meeting last week with BuCor chief Benjamin C. de los Santos, to finalize the agreement.
“The MOU signing will be held within the month,” Arnuco told the Philippines News Agency.
“We have to move fast to ensure the Department of Budget and Management [DBM] will incorporate the fund allocation in the 2018 national budget,” he added.
Arnuco said they have been conducting several meetings with Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II and BuCor officials to pursue the relocation of the inmates to a new facility.
“The transfer will only take effect if there is funding support,” he said.
The transfer, which has been proposed more than 10 years ago under the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is necessary, as the Zamboecozone is about to develop the area for the San Ramon Seaport Project.
“It [San Ramon Seaport Project] is already in the pipeline, we have to prepare for it’s implementation. In the event there’s a successful bidder, the area should be ready for them to work on,” Arnuco said.
Previous administrations have identified 1,200 hectares of land in barangays Bungiao and Curuan in the east coast of this city as the prison’s new location.
“At present, they are occupying 600 hectares in the ecozone area. They will be transferred to an area twice the size they are currently occupying,” Arnuco said.
“It will be a joint engagement. However, for the initial steps, since we were the ones who asked for the transfer, we will have to prepare for it. We will have to prepare an MOU that will be reviewed by the BuCor, DOJ and DBM to ensure that funding will go to the BuCor for the construction [of the new facility],” he said.
Currently, there are about 1,400 inmates at the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm.
Arnuco said they will also tap the help of the National Historical Commission to preserve the main building of the century-old prison facility.
“We have to seek the assistance of the National Historical Commission to determine which part of the edifice would be considered as national heritage, and that will be preserved—for history and for use as a tourist attraction in the future,” he said.
Based on the BuCor’s online data, the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm was established on August 21,1870, through a royal decree promulgated in 1869 during the tenure of Gov. Gen. Ramon Blanco.
It said the facility was originally established for persons convicted of political crimes.
Considered as the oldest penal facility in the country, prisoners at the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm were required to do agricultural work, it said.
Although it was destroyed during the Spanish-American War in 1898, the American administration reestablished the prison farm in 1907.
“In 1912 Gen. John J. Pershing, chief executive of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, classified the institution as a prison and penal colony and therein confined people sentenced by the courts under his jurisdiction,” the BuCor’s web site said.
Under Pershing’s supervision, several buildings with a capacity for 600 prisoners were built.
Arnuco said they have already prepared the design of the new prison facility.
“What we are doing right now is to update the design,” he said.
The land area for the proposed prison facility was previously owned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and was transferred to the BuCor.