De Lima renews call to gov’t to address worsening jail congestion

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has expressed deep concern over the worsening subhuman conditions and congestion inside the country’s jails and penitentiaries precipitated by the Duterte administration’s all-out war on drugs.

De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, pressed her colleagues to act on a number of resolutions she filed which seek to address the problems that have long been plaguing the country’s prison system.

“I hope my colleagues realize the urgency of the matter and finally address the issue concerning our overcrowded detention cells by starting its public hearings on the two resolutions I’ve filed some months ago,” she said.

“The inmates may have disobeyed some laws and rules of our society, but like every human being, they are still entitled to enjoy basic human rights,” she added.

In its Audit Report, the Commission on Audit (COA) noted that as of Dec. 31, 2017, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has total detainees of 146,302 in several jails despite a total land area that can ideally accommodate 20,653 inhabitants.

COA cited the arrest of 140,000 suspected drug offenders who failed to post bail due to poverty and the slow resolution of cases in lower courts as the causes of the overpopulation in the country’s detention centers that reached an overcapacity of 612 percent in 2017.

As early as August 2016, De Lima filed Senate Resolution No. (SRN) 97, calling for a legislative inquiry into the current state of jails and penitentiaries in the country. Last January, she filed SR No. 590, seeking an investigation into the continued failure of the BJMP to complete jail facility projects.

The Senator from Bicol said she hopes the COA report would serve as an “eye-opener” for the appropriate Senate committees to conduct investigation in aid of legislation to come up with comprehensive solution to help decongest jails.

“This should remind the appropriate Senate committees that densely congested prison cells can lead to severe problems in jail management, including but not limited to shortage of food and drinking water, substandard sleeping accommodation and diseases,” she said.

“The congestion in the prison cells is also worrisome because it also leads to increased affiliation of prisoners who join ragtag gangs believing it will provide them with protection and social support. No doubt, severe congestion is the root cause of prison-based criminality,” she added.

De Lima also announced that she will be filing within the month a bill on a Unified Penitentiary System.

The COA also noted that the condition at BJMP jails further forced detainees to join gangs who promised them safety and access to contraband and exposed them to various kinds of illnesses.

De Lima likewise expressed alarm that Duterte’s intensified campaign against “tambays” or loiterers in the street “can further worsen the problem in our country’s prison jails.”

When she was justice secretary, De Lima had steered the passage into law of the modernization of the Bureau of Corrections in 2013 as part of the then Aquino administration’s resolve to decongest and improve the facilities of the country’s jail system.

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