THE ease with which former Batangas governor and convicted killer Jose Antonio Leviste went in and out of prison validates the assumption that prominent inmates receive special privileges from officials and guards manning the New Bilibid Prison.

The Leviste episode should provide the impetus for a comprehensive reform of a rotten penal system, including appropriate legislation and vigorous enforcement of prison laws by the executive department.

To show the government means business, President Benigno Aquino 3rd should have fired Director Ernesto Diokno of the Bureau of Corrections instead of just allowing him to go on leave pending investigation of the incident.

After all, Diokno acknowledged he knew about Leviste’s comings and goings and even warned him to be careful lest he be caught.

The President had called Diokno himself and told the latter about his displeasure for the flagrant violation of prison rules.

Here’s how the President recounted his talk with Diokno who is a presidential appointee:

“I impressed upon him my dismay over what happened. What’s with the lax security that prisoners can go in and out of jail?”

Clearly, the President should have had the guts to do more than warn him: “Don’t let that happen again.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also pleaded in vain with Diokno to resign to save the President from embarrassment.

De Lima herself can fire Diokno while the Justice Department is investigating the fiasco.

If the inquiry absolves Diokno of command responsibility, he can be reinstated anyway.

But de Lima apparently was acting cautiously.

In the Luneta hostages-taking which killed eight tourists from Hong Kong, de Lima was overruled by the President on her recommendation to file criminal charges against several officials reportedly close to the President.

She is again facing a dilemma.

How will she handle the current investigation of those responsible for the rampant abuse of jail passes?

Will Diokno and his cohorts also get a pass?

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