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The Condition of Philippine Prisons and Jails

THE OPCAT REPORT
The Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international treaty which was adopted by an overwhelming majority at the UN General Assembly in 2002. The purpose of the Optional Protocol is to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. To this end, the Optional Protocol advocates the establishment of a system of regular visits to be undertaken by independent international and local bodies to institutions where persons are deprived of their liberty. The objective of these visits is to prevent torture and improve the conditions of prisons and detention centers.

This site contains information about how the OPCAT works in preventing torture and an overview of the treaties that the Philippines has acceded to. You can also browse through the work that is being done by local and international organizations to prevent torture and to have the OPCAT in place in the Philippines.

The ratification and implementation of the OPCAT in the Philippines aims to fulfill the stateĀ¹s obligation to the principles it has committed itself to when it became a member of the various UN treaties.

The Condition of Philippine Prisons and Jails
Extreme overcrowding is the most punishing aspect of doing time in jails maintained by the Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP), which is an agency of the Department of Interior and Local Government. In 2001, about 35,000 inmates were fighting for space in jails supervised by the bureau. Today, the number has jumped to 69,500.

The jails in Metro Manila account for 22,000 inmates which is more prisoners than the official capacity they can accommodate. At the Manila City Jail and other prisons in the National Capital Region, inmates have to take turns sleeping on the floor.

Based on government projections, the total jail population in BJMP-supervised jails could reach 89,000 in 2008, 101,250 in 2009 and 114,930 in 2010, way beyond the capacity of these holding facilities. These figures are only for the municipal and city jails which are under the care of the BJMP.

Over congestion also brutalizes life in penitentiaries and in provincial jails. The projected populations of national prisons administered by the Bureau of Corrections, an agency of the Department of Justice and the jails maintained by the provincial governments must be as dreadful.

Herding individuals in cramped spaces is cruel, inhuman, ill, degrading, and unjust punishment. Overcrowding is dangerous to health and to human life. It breeds diseases, breaks down discipline and exacerbates tensions. Having to fight for air and space 24 hours a day make prison, in the words of inmates, a living death.

Add dirty tap water, dingy toilets, substandard meals, gang war, poorly trained guards and prison administrators, favoritism, and you have a system built for punishment, not for rehabilitation. This is not the enlightened approach to penology which is reform geared towards a subsequent productive life upon reentry to the community. It is a throwback to the 18th century that treated prisoners as animals unfit to renew themselves and rejoin society.

If officials in charge of the correctional system have humanizing conditions in the holding facilities at heart, major reforms in the criminal justice system could take place that could give prison inmates a chance at rehabilitation and a meaningful life after imprisonment.

Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno of the Department of Interior and Local Government has called for the expansion and improvement of municipal, and city jails through an integrated jail system in Metro Manila and other big cities. The integrated system proposed by Secretary Puno would raise the daily stipend for jail food which is currently at P.40 for three meals a day, set up hospitals on [prison grounds, improve living conditions and give prisoners more space. The key to the new system is Congress appropriating more money for prison modernization. A bill introduced by Rep. Amado Espino Jr. allocates money to rebuild jails and rehabilitate prisoners.

The Department of Justice likewise has recommended reforms through the unification of the Philippine correctional system. If their proposal becomes a reality, the new system will be patterned after the US Department of Corrections.

President Arroyo and the Philippine government should take the development of prisons and detention centers seriously for the very reason that substandard conditions and practices are banned by t many international treaties we have acceded to such as the UN ICCPR and UNCAT, as well as our very own Philippine Constitution.

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