De Lima seeks probe on status of jail facility construction projects

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To address the congestion and the poor living condition inside the country’s jails and detention facilities, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has pushed for a Senate investigation into the current status of various jail facility construction projects.

In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 590, De Lima said the government should look into the worsening state of detention facilities being maintained by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) as a pressing issue that needs to be addressed.

“The continued failure to complete jail facility projects betrays BJMP’s lack of resolve and lack of vision by not prioritizing the projects that can make jail management and prisoner reformation more effective,” she said.

Official figures showed that the country’s jails are presently holding over five times its cell capacity – or exactly 126,946 inmates as of December 2016, thus exceeding the total ideal capacity of 20,746 inmates per jail.

Region 3 reportedly topped the most overcrowded jails in the country, followed by Region 1 and Region 9, which ranked third. Interestingly, jails in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao remained uncongested with only 278 inmates.

The former justice secretary pointed out that one of the factors which contribute to jail congestion is the lack, if not absence, of adequate jail facilities, in clear violation of the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

She, however, noted a COA Report which showed that construction of jail facilities costing ₱1,9 million that started 20 years ago have remained unfinished, while 12 construction projects costing ₱27 million failed to meet their respective deadlines.

According to COA Report, the congestion in these facilities is worrisome because it “leads not only to health and sanitation problems but also to increased gang affiliation of inmates” for protection, network of social support and access to material benefits, among others.

Given these disturbing effects on inmates, De Lima said her Senate colleagues should stop turning a blind eye on the perennial problems that have long been hounding the country’s prison system, especially the delay on the construction of jail facilities.

“Congress should investigate the cause of this matter and see to it that any institutional or budgetary hurdles that prevent the project completions are duly addressed,” she noted.

De Lima also took issue on the COA report which reveals that the increase in jail populations are also attributable to the court’s slow or no action on the pending cases due to lack of judges, postponement of hearings and the slow disposition of criminal cases that carry penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, non-movement or non-release of bailable detainees due to poverty.

The Senator from Bicol lamented that her calls for the government to address the long-standing issue of the country’s prison system remains unheeded.

In August 2016, it may be recalled that De Lima has filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 97 seeking a Senate inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the current state of jails and penitentiaries all over the country.

Months after, she sent a formal communication to Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee, requesting him to give priority to PSR No. 97 she filed, but to no avail.

Last May 2017, she also filed PSR No. 355 urging the Gordon committee to conduct an immediate investigation into the discovery of a “secret jail facility” at the Manila Police District Station 1, Tondo, Manila.

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