Press Release
January 21, 2015

Privilege Speech of Senator Koko Pimentel
on Philippine Penitentiary System

Senate Session Hall

"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."

With these words, human rights and democracy icon, the late Nelson Mandela, reminds us that our countrymen in penal institutions equally deserve our attention and protection. Gone should be the notion that prisoners are criminals who deserve little or no sympathy at all. Guided by this same principle, the United Nations, in the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoner calls on state members to treat all prisoners with "respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings."

We too are called on to this challenge and must share in the responsibility of rehabilitating offenders while at the same time, upholding their dignity as human beings and providing for their social re-integration.

Congress recently responded to this constant call through the enactment of Republic Act No. 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013. In this statute, we embraced the core ideal that the State must zealously promote the general welfare and safeguard the basic rights of every prisoner incarcerated in our national penitentiary system. In the same breadth, the law affirmed our duty to strengthen government capability aimed towards the institutionalization of highly efficient and competent correctional services. It is also through this key piece of legislation that we endeavored to engender a paradigm shift in the manner we view our prison institutions and to treat it as part and parcel of the entire criminal justice system.

Through this law, we sought to modernize, professionalize, and re-structure the Bureau of Corrections (hereafter referred to as "BuCor") by upgrading its facilities, increasing the number of its personnel, upgrading the level of their qualifications and standardizing their base pay, retirement, and other benefits. Though laudable in its objectives, the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013 addresses only one side of a larger picture and leaves much to be desired in the state of our countrymen who are presently detained, whether by final conviction or awaiting the outcome of their cases.

Based on BuCor's data as of August 2014, its seven (7) penitentiaries have a total prison population of 40,185 inmates. Considering that the seven (7) penitentiaries have a total capacity of 16,000 inmates, this 40,185 count translates to a congestion rate of about 149%. The case of the New Bilibid Prison, however, is more disconcerting. With an inmate population of roughly 22,800 for a facility that can only reasonably house 8,400, it alone has a congestion rate of 170%. This disturbing situation in our penitentiaries certainly falls short of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders that prescribes, as far as practicable, sleeping accommodation in individual cells or rooms.

The congestion in our national penitentiaries and other places of confinement under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology is but one of the several issues that continue to hound our correctional system.

Let me share with you some of the other key institutional issues in the corrections system that were identified in the National Survey of Inmates and Institutional Assessment Final Report (July 2003) that was undertaken by the Supreme Court, in coordination with the United Nations:

(i) First, outdated, outmoded, and dilapidated correctional facilities;

In this regard, prisons and jails in the country are generally in poor condition. For instance, since the New Bilibid Prison's construction in 1935, there has been no major renovation of its facilities and administration building. Jails are similarly in dire need of proper maintenance and repair. The inadequate and poor maintenance of penal facilities have eventually led to the "kubol" system where inmates are forced to share makeshift rooms among themselves. The sheer lack of adequate facilities and budget for the inmates' basic needs have also been linked to the proliferation of criminal activities within these institutions and to the rise of various gangs.

Just very recently, we witnessed for ourselves how some inmates have unscrupulously taken advantage of the weaknesses of our penal system to gain unwarranted benefits and live like kings from within their cells and worse, perpetuate their wanton wrongdoings not only inside but also outside their places of confinement. Readily, therefore, the need to improve our outmoded and dilapidated correctional facilities cannot be overemphasized.

(ii) Second, the existence of functional overlaps and diffusion in the conduct of corrections and restoration activities;

There are several agencies which are concerned with similar correction and rehabilitation functions. For example, the Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and local governments have similar mandates relative to the management and supervision of prisons, jails, and rehabilitation centers. This should impel us to re-assess the present set up and to determine if integrating the functions of all these government agencies will better serve the ends of a more efficient correction system.

(iii) Third, lack of information technology and expertise;

The study found that the lack of technology to properly maintain the inmates' records and process documents for their release has been an ongoing problem.

(iv) Fourth, the need to improve overall management capacity and resources;

Improving administrative management capacity and resources of agencies involved in the corrections system directly impacts on its capacity to develop policies, programs and projects for correction and rehabilitation of offenders, tackle congestion in jails and prisons, and for effective operations management and strategic planning. Moreover, the increase in the number of guards assigned to our penal facilities has not risen commensurately with the number of detainees. Thus, it is no surprise to see that from a guard to inmate ratio of 1:39 in 1994, this figure has almost doubled to a guard to inmate ratio of 1:66 in just twenty (20) years.

The special needs of certain inmates are also continuously being neglected. Specifically, for instance, women inmates who are pregnant are confined in facilities that do not meet the basic standards necessary to protect them and their newborn's safety and health. This calls to mind the case of Andrea Rosal who was detained at a cramped cell inside the NBI headquarters while she was in her full term. During her confinement, Andrea complained of abdominal pains but was only allowed to see a doctor two days after her arrest. Andrea was eventually transferred to another facility in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City but had to share her cell with twenty four (24) other female detainees. This case alone is illustrative of how we fall short of our international commitments, such as the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders prescribing, among others, that pregnant prisoners must receive advice on their health and be provided with a healthy environment conducive to their delicate condition.

(v) Fifth, unattractive compensation, emoluments, and benefits and inadequate training;

Inadequate training has consistently been cited as one of the many reasons for inefficiencies and deficiencies in the corrections system. I am pleased, however, that we now have Republic Act No. 10575 to specifically attend to this issue.

Apart from the physical infrastructure of our penal facilities, we must also draw attention to our inmates' living conditions. Currently, our inmates are allocated Fifty Pesos (P50.00) each as subsistence allowance per day and another Five Pesos (P5.00) each per day as medicine allowance. Though the total subsistence allowance per prisoner of approximately P18,250 per year has been considered more than the national per capita poverty threshold of P18,157, based on 2011 figures, this highlights that delays in our criminal justice system ultimately leads to greater costs and loss to our government coffers.

Introducing reforms to our correctional system invariably leads to improvements in our own criminal justice system. As one of its five pillars, the "correction pillar" must constantly adhere to the principle of rehabilitation by implementing programs and interventions that will prepare the offenders to become productive members of society upon their release. The same National Survey of Inmates and Institutional Assessment Final Report recommends that these rehabilitation programs include:

(i) Provisions for opportunities to develop proper work skills and acquire education and training, which will translate into economic self-sufficiency upon release, thus reducing the possibility of recidivism;

(ii) Engagement of inmates in meaningful work assignments, particularly in penal farms and other productive labor, thereby helping defray the tax burden of their incarceration; and

(iii) Provision of counseling, life skills training and spiritual guidance services to give inmates opportunities to take new directions in their lives.

This same study emphasized the role of the community in the process of restoration and re-integration of offenders. For instance, the community can be tapped to monitor parolees and to enforce standards of behavior. Accordingly, efforts in engaging citizens for community corrections, as an alternative measure to imprisonment and in implementing restorative justice must be intensified as a means of decongesting and cutting cost in maintaining prisons and jails.

These efforts to improve the infrastructure of our corrections system should nevertheless not blind us from the harsh realities that our inmates face on a daily basis. Many of them, if not, most of them live in sub-standard human conditions, which are violative of Article III, Section 19 (2) of the 1987 Constitution.[1] These conditions are not conducive to their reformation but are also detrimental to their own health and well-being. Our inmates also have very limited access to legal services, and oftentimes, are not even aware of their rights under the law. These, compounded by the delays that come with the administration of justice, therefore present greater challenges for us as we forge ahead in our campaign to overhaul our entire criminal justice system.

As we begin this new year, let us commit ourselves again to the unfinished task at hand. Though we have made significant progress, may our accomplishments only further fuel our desire to bring about genuine and lasting reforms that will center on our incarcerated countrymen.

Thank you.

[1] Article III, Section 19 (2) states that "the employment of physical, psychological, or degrading punishment against any prisoner or detainee or the use of substandard or inadequate penal facilities under subhuman conditions shall be dealt with by law."

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