By Hannah Torregoza
Opposition senator Leila de Lima today renewed her call for a formal Senate inquiry into the status of the government’s jail facility construction projects nationwide, noting the worsening condition of the country’s prisons.
De Lima, who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame over drug charges, has filed Senate Resolution No. 590, directing the appropriate Senate committee to look into the congestion and poor living condition inside the country’s jails.
The senator said it is imperative that the government should look into the worsening state of detention facilities being maintained by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) as a pressing issue that needs to be addressed.
“The continued failure to complete jail facility projects betrays BJMP’s lack of resolve and lack of vision by not prioritizing the projects that can make jail management and prisoner reformation more effective,” de Lima said.
She said one of the factors that contribute to jail congestion is the lack, if not absence, of adequate jail facilities. She said this is in clear violation of the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
However, she noted a Commission on Audit (COA) Report that showed that construction of jail facilities costing P1.9 million that started 20 years ago has remained unfinished. Twelve construction projects costing P27 million failed to meet their respective deadlines.
She said the COA Report stated that congestion in these facilities is worrisome because it “leads not only to health and sanitation problems but also to increased gang affiliation of inmates” for protection, network of social support and access to material benefits, among others.
The COA report, she said, attributed the increase in jail population to the court’s slow or nonaction on pending cases due to lack of judges, postponement of hearings and the slow disposition of criminal cases that carry penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, nonmovement or nonrelease of bailable detainees due to poverty.
Given these disturbing effects on inmates, the senator said lawmakers should stop turning a blind eye on the continuing problems that have long been hounding the country’s penitentiary.
“Congress should investigate the cause of this matter and see to it that any institutional or budgetary hurdles that prevent the project completions are duly addressed,” she stressed.
She said official figures would show that the country’s jails are currently holding over five times its cell capacity—exactly 126,946 inmates as of December 2016—thus, exceeding the total ideal capacity of 20,746 inmates per jail.
De Lima said Region 3 reportedly topped the most overcrowded jails in the country, followed by Region 1 and Region 9, which ranked third; but jails in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) remained uncongested with only 278 inmates.