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UN calls on prison reform to address overcrowding and poor living conditions

MANILA (UCAN) : A United Nations (UN) torture prevention body called on The Philippines to immediately address prison overcrowding and improve independent monitoring of detention facilities.

The Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture made its first visit to The Philippines from May 23 to June 5 to monitor the implementation of the “Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture,” a UN mechanism that was ratified by the country in 2012.

“We hope, and expect, that the government of The Philippines will use our report to improve the conditions of people deprived of their liberty, in particular by dealing with the chronic problem of overcrowding in places of detention,” committee head Suzanne Jabbour in a statement issued on June 3 in Geneva.

The UN body is expected to submit its “confidential preliminary observations” to Philippine authorities later in June.

The sub-committee also called on the Philippine government to enact a law to establish an effective national independent monitoring body, known as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) as soon as possible this year,   

“We believe that an effective, independent and well-resourced National Preventive Mechanism will be crucial to prevent torture and ill-treatment and to improve conditions of detention through a system of regular visits,” said
Jabbour. 

She noted that The Philippines, to meet its treaty obligations, should have set up such a mechanism by April 2013 and encouraged the government to establish such a body as soon as possible within this year.

Among the places the experts visited during their 10 days in the country were police stations, pre-trial facilities, prisons, a juvenile rehabilitation centre, correctional institute for women and a psychiatric hospital.  

Members of the delegation carried out private and confidential interviews with law enforcement officials, medical staff and persons deprived of their liberty.  

The sub-committee also met the relevant authorities, including the Senate, the House of Representatives, members of government departments, and civil society representatives.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines has repeatedly appealed to the Philippine president, Noynoy Aquino, to grant executive clemency to indigent, sick and elderly inmates on humanitarian grounds.

Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak, chairperson of the bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC), said many inmates, especially those who are sick, and their families have been enduring the repercussions of incarceration for years.

“Their families have exhausted all the resources available to them to finance their medical bills,” he said.

The bishop said the Church’s prison ministry has been doing what it can to meet prisoners’ needs, but with meager resources and a volunteer staff.

Bishop Tumulak added that many of the country’s detainees have not even been convicted of a crime but remain locked inside overcrowded facilities.

Data from the ECPPC shows that only 35 per cent of the 114,368 inmates under the country’s Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and the Bureau of Correction were actually found guilty of crimes and were serving their sentences. 

The remaining 65 per cent have only been charged with various crimes but have never been convicted by a court.

“They are detained because their alleged crimes are not bailable or they can’t afford to pay the bail,” said Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the ECPPC.

Diamante said the slow judicial process for inmates remains a major challenge that has been causing prison congestion.

Moreover, he added that the grossly deficient facilities in national prisons and various jails have given rise to sub-human living conditions.

Human rights group Karapatan also called on the UN body to look into the conditions of political prisoners, most of whom face trumped-up criminal charges and are suffering from inhuman conditions and repression in detention centres.

 

As of 31 March 2015, Karapatan documented a total of 527 political prisoners currently in detention around the country, 220 of whom were arrested in the past five years.