There were days when the obligation of the State to guarantee human rights and human dignity has been fettered with, mocked, bent and twisted. But there are also good days – when the arc of the universe bends towards what is right and just.
A.M. No. 20-06-14-SC, the newly approved guidelines released by the Supreme Court which implements R.A. No. 11362, or the Community Service Act of 2019, that allows the imposition of community service in lieu of jail time is a testament that if we stay committed to uphold justice and human rights, the good still triumphs.
The state of our country’s penal facilities has long been the subject of international concern – even tagged as the most congested in the world. Not because Filipinos are inherently evil – but because poverty and social inequity have lured many of them into illicit activities, and some becoming easy targets for made-up charges. Stories echo the truth that prisoners are disproportionately drawn from the poor and the vulnerable, while high-ranking officials who commit transgressions are tapped so gently with mere reassignments.
Our prison facilities are bursting at the seams, and as a result, imprisonment has turned into a death penalty for those rotting in cramped cells waiting for their day in court, waiting for verdicts that take years of wasted time and missed opportunities behind bars.
Severe overcrowding is a perennial problem, worsened by the pandemic – jails filled beyond capacity with Filipinos who were forced to violate the world’s most stringent quarantine protocols in order to earn a living, forced to brave the risks of exposure in order to survive, forced to get out of their homes because they could no longer wait for the help that never really came. Physical distancing and other health protocols are set aside because small, dark and moldy cells with 534% occupancy level cannot cater to them; because even before the pandemic, 215,000 inmates occupy space intended for a maximum capacity of 40,000.
And so I laud and stand with the Supreme Court in this development. This is the essence of restorative justice. As the United Nations has pronounced, “Imprisonment has been shown to be counterproductive in the rehabilitation and reintegration of those charged with minor crimes, as well as for certain vulnerable population.” Imprisonment is not only expensive, it is most intrusive and impinging – striking no balance between the duty to uphold justice and the obligation to reintegrate offenders into the society.
The obsession with imprisonment overlooks alternatives which may prove to be more effective and less costly. For instance, Malawi in East Africa instituted a community service plan in 2000 that saw the rate of re-offending falling to 0.25%, or just one out of every 400 offenders. By using community service rather than imprisonment, it even yielded a $227,717 savings for its government.
This is justice tempered with mercy. Punishment should essentially be proportionate to the offense committed, and its goal should not be merely to penalize – but to also allow rehabilitation and reintegration back into the society.
Imprisonment cannot be the lone solution to our country’s crime rates – especially when the moral climate has seen its worst days; how in a span of a little over half one man’s term, the axe has fallen hard even before the gavel dropped one time too many. Alternatives for imprisonment may prove to be more effective.
Ganitong mga solusyon ang kailangan, hindi yung mga pagpapahirap at panggigipit, o yung mga hindi makatao, na bunga ng baluktot na mentalidad. ###
Access the handwritten copy of Dispatch from Crame No. 942, here: https://issuu.com/senatorleilam.delima/docs/dispatch_no._942