Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged the government to address the perennial and decades-old problem of severe congestion in the country’s jails and prisons, which she considers as the root cause of the pressing problems in Philippine penitentiary.
De Lima made the call following the reported death of six (6) and wounding of 33 Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) in a riot that broke out in Caloocan City Jail last Jan. 11, which alarmingly happened just a week after three (3) PDLs were also killed in a riot in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
“As I keep on saying, severe congestion is the root cause of many ills and problems, including prison-based criminality, in our detention and correctional facilities. Added to that are the decrepit facilities and lack of adequate food and basic needs which are sure recipe for chaos, occasional restlessness and mental health problems,” she said.
“Hangga’t hindi nabibigyan ng kaukulang pansin at hindi nasosolusyunan ang matagal nang problema ng malubhang pagsisiksikan sa ating mga kulungan, hindi matatapos ang ganitong mga kaguluhan at insidente ng karahasan. Paulit-ulit lang itong mangyayari at lalo lamang lalalim ang ugat ng problema,” she added.
“Let’s not forget also that severe congestion makes PDLs extremely vulnerable to diseases and COVID-19 infection,” De Lima stressed.
Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) spokesperson Xavier Solda reportedly confirmed that aside from six killed PDLs, at least 33 were also injured in the incident.
Solda detailed that the riot started in a small fight between two PDLs before it erupted into a bigger fight between two big groups.
De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, maintained that the perennial failure to come up with comprehensive solution that could help decongest jails and address other complex needs of correctional facilities is tantamount to dehumanizing PDLs.
“PDLs are humans too who deserve humane treatment. Obligasyon nating igalang ang karapatang pantao ng lahat. Anuman ang estado sa buhay, ang nakaraan, pinanggalingan o paniniwala, karapatan ng bawat isa ang makataong pagtrato,” she said.
“Ang bilangguan o piitan ay isa ring lunsaran ng pagbabagong-buhay; ng pagkakataon na pagsisisihan ang kasalanan at makabalik sa lipunan. Kung ang dadatnan at ang magiging pamumuhay ng PDLs ay may talamak na krimen, pang-aabuso, may malubhang siksikan na nagdudulot ng pagkakasakit at ibayong dusa, paano magiging posible ang pagbabagong buhay?,” De Lima added.
As such, the lady Senator from Bicol urged her Senate colleagues anew to prioritize the passage of her two measures which seek to introduce comprehensive reforms in the country’s prison and correctional systems.
“I call on my colleagues to quickly address the congestion and inhumane condition of our jail facilities. If the congestion and inhumane condition of our jail facilities will not be solved, it may put the health and lives of more PDLs in danger,” she said.
“It is important to enact a law instituting wide-ranging reforms in our jails and correction system, a legislation that shall mandate the upgrade of our facilities, address jail congestion, and legislate the standards of humane treatment of PDLs,” she added.
De Lima, who consistently sought for much needed reforms in the country’s prison and correctional systems, has repeatedly pushed for measures that would help uphold the rights and dignity of PDLs and ensure that they receive humane treatment while in prison, and at the same time address prison-based criminality through structural, organizational and physical reforms.
During this 18th Congress, she filed Senate Bill (SB) Nos. 180 and 181, to be known as “Prison Reform Act of 2019,” and “Unified Corrections and Jail Management System Act of 2019.”
SB No. 180 seeks to institutionalize prison reform and restorative justice in the country’s correctional system to ensure the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates while according full respect of their rights.
SB No. 181, meanwhile, seeks to unify corrections and management system by centralizing the management of all prisons and jails under a single government authority to be called National Commission on Corrections and Jail Management (NCCJM). (30)