Bursting on the Seams
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
– Nelson Mandela
With the focus on the daily killings as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, hidden from the public scrutiny is the deteriorating condition of Philippine jails, made worse recently by the increased arrest of thousands not only for selling or using drugs but also with drug related crimes against persons and properties.
While they escaped death in the war on drugs, those incarcerated face a long time living in hellish conditions unfit for humans and a clear violations of the United Nations standards in penology management. The prisoners face inhumane punishment even before they are convicted of a crime.
“In the whole world, we have the highest congestion rate,” Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology Director Serafin Barretto said recently in a media briefing that Philippine jails currently have a congestion rate of 558 percent, higher than that of Haiti. While the conditions of the Philippine jails are far from ideal for decades, the current situation brings the issue of congestion to a potential human tragedy if no action is taken to alleviate overcrowding.
In the Philippines, as reflected by those who remain incarcerated the longest, our justice system does not properly exonerate the innocent and punish the guilty. Justice is not a common privilege among the poor and they bear the injustice the most.
The Philippine criminal justice system has never been able to give the innocent the kind of justice they deserve and punish the guilty who have the means to hire topnotch lawyers, and have the resources to influence police investigators, prosecutors and the judges’ decisions.
The poor had been the victims of injustice often and reforms in the judiciary, the penal system and police is of utmost priority.
Chito Gascon, Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines recently declared, “that human rights of many Filipinos are outright violated. The law and order system in the Philippines is an injustice system perpetuated for years by those with privilege, with connections with the powerful and by those who themselves are tasked to uphold the law and protect every Filipino citizen.”
I have been working on this project since 2011. While access was hard to get, through persuasion and doggone perseverance, I now have enough materials to launch an awareness campaign to improve the conditions of detention centres in the Philippines.
To call attention to the injustice, I need to exhibit the project at the Congress of the Philippines and the Philippine Senate because any measurable changes in the injustice system will require some legislative work and government appropriation.