Admitting that the “technical aspect” of the Disciplinary Board Committee (DBC) Resolution of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) as “defective”, the sanction banning Fr. James Darunday from entering the Bohol District Jail (BDJ) was modified to “warning”.
However, Jail Chief Superintendent (J/CSupt) Arnold F. Buenacosa, Regional Director of the BJMP-7 warned Fr. James that “repetition of the same shall be dealt with severely.”
Bishop Alberto Uy of the Diocese of Tagbilaran and Fr. James filed a motion for reconsideration thru their counsel, Atty. Florendo Columnas denouncing the BJMP resolution as an “affront not only to the person of Fr. James Darunday and his family but also to the priests, nuns, church leaders and the faithful of the Diocese of Tagbilaran.”
Based on the investigation report by the BDJ dated Nov. 26, 2017, Darunday entered the BDJ on the same date, a Sunday to celebrate Holy Mass. Upon entry, he asked JO1 Evangelista to search the plastic container given to him by the wife of inmate Rey Gako identified as Maria Rosario Patac.
In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Patac claimed that she had no knowledge of the contents of the plastic container which was given to her by Gako’s friend. Patac was considered as the prime suspect in sneaking contraband that was found in the plastic container and was meted a lifetime ban in entering the BDJ.
Patac and Gako were parishioners of Darunday in Barangay Baang, Catigbian when he was the parish priest.
While Fr. James was saying mass, Prison Guard on Duty (PGD) Cubrado, duty searcher, searched the container and found 50 packs of cigarettes (Winston) and 93 leaves of tobacco leaves which are considered as contraband.
In a five-page memorandum signed by Director Buenacosa, the BJMP assured the Diocese of Tagbilaran that the prohibition “is merely directed to the person of Fr. Darunday and is not directed to the entire religious organization.”
The memo also pointed out that the resolution banning Fr. Darunday for one year “is not a prohibition of the free exercise of religious freedom since it was merely against a violation of a certain individual.”
The BJMP memo found Fr. James contention on lack of due process as “misplaced” considering his length of service as a “service provider”, educational attainment and religious vocation.
“He is an unexpected offender and it is aggravated considering that as a religious advocate. It is expected of him to abide by the rules and regulations to uphold truth and justice and serve as an ideal role model for inmates.”, according to the memo.
Fr. James argued that “he could not be considered as a visitor of any inmate, has never been tagged or branded as delinquent and has never been found guilty nor charged by any competent authority of smuggling contraband.”
Darunday also discredited the provision cited as the basis for his sanction as “misplaced, if not totally wrong” since it applies to the “prohibited acts of an inmate” pointing out that “he is a priest assigned to celebrate mass inside the BDJ and not an inmate.”
Buenacosa agreed with Darunday’s position and found erroneous the application of section 25 of the BJMP Operations Manual that clearly limits the jurisdiction of the DBC to cases involving inmates and not visitors.
BDJ investigators acknowledged that Fr. James had no personal knowledge of the contents of the plastic container and not even a visitor of Gako, “however, he was the one who carried it inside the jail facility.”
POSSESSION NOT OWNERSHIP
Fr. James was requested by Maria Rosario Patac to give the biscuit container to inmate Rey Gako. Patac and Gako were parishioners of Darunday in Barangay Baang, Catigbian.
Patac claimed that she had no knowledge of the contents of the plastic container which was given to her by Gako’s friend. Patac was considered as the prime suspect in sneaking contraband that was found in the plastic container and was meted a lifetime ban in entering the BDJ.
Citing the BJMP Revised Operations Manual, Buenacosa stressed that the “mere possession is a ground for disciplinary action against an erring visitor and the question of ownership is not an issue.
Despite the fact that Fr. James surrendered the plastic container to the jail guards at the gate of the BDJ in Barangay Cabawan for inspection, the memo chided him for his failure to “exercise precaution and necessary diligence” that the plastic container was free from any items considered as contraband.
The “unfounded, baseless, unjustified and unconstitutional issuance of Resolution No. 2017-15 has sowed fear, alarm, and terror to the priests of the Diocese of Tagbilaran” that might discourage other priests from saying mass at the BDJ, according to Fr. James.
But the BJMP dismissed the concern of Fr. James saying “there are other priests who are equally capable to take over or continue the religious advocacy at the BDJ.”
The alleged smuggling incident involving Fr. James exposed to the public the unchecked entry of banned items such as illegal drugs, cigarettes, cell phones in exchange for cash.
Sources inside the district jail confirmed the lucrative business of cigarettes sold at PhP600.00/pack and the sneaking of cell phones for PhP6,000.00.
Jail officials confirmed that inmates are allowed to keep PhP1,000 a week for their personal needs. With more than 900 inmates at the BDJ in Cabawan, a conservative estimate of PhP2 million a month is supporting a booming prison economy that encourages that smuggling of banned items.
A copy of the BJMP Memorandum was furnished to Fr. James by BDJ, District Jail Warden, Jail Chief Inspector (JCI) Felipe A. Montejo on January 8, 2018. (Chito M. Visarra)