Press Release
October 21, 2017

A Commentary on President Duterte's Recent PR Stunt
By: Sen. Leila M. de Lima
21 October 2017

If there is proof positive of how crucial political dissent could be in forcing governments and its leaders (who are becoming drunk with their power) to be responsive to the needs of the people, Mr. Duterte and his allies are giving it to us now in their attempt to rehabilitate his image after the truth (or, in this case, falsity or fakery) of his "pro-poor" stance and his so-called "malasakit" is starting to come out.

After claiming that he doesn't care about his falling satisfaction rating, Duterte's recent activities seem to prove - or, at least, his PR people appear desperate to prove - otherwise, if we take, for instance, his recently reported jail visit to Camp Bagong Diwa.

During said visit, Duterte made a show of inspecting the congested detention facility, supposedly finding them satisfactory, promising inmates TV sets in each jail cell to make their detention more comfortable, and praising the BJMP officials' management of the detention facility despite budget constraints.

I, of course, join the President in commending the efforts of said budget-constrained agency in its attempt to make ends meet, so to speak. Such is no small feat, especially in light of reports that the BJMP is reportedly currently congested by a rate of 600%. This goes way beyond overcongestion and is, in truth, currently at the level of being "inhumane".

This also goes to show, however, that the problem cannot be resolved by simply adding TVs in every jail cell. That is not a solution. That is a trick - aaliwin lang ang mga detainees para makalimutan ang gutom, hirap at hindi makataong kondisyon nila sa napakasikip na kulungan.

Kung talagang gusto ni Pangulong Duterteng malaman ang totoong kondisyon sa loob ng mga bilangguan, he should conduct surprise visits, particularly in city jails - similar to the surprise jail visit and inspection conducted by the Commission on Human Rights that resulted in the discovery of "secret jail cells". Otherwise, it is guaranteed that the conditions he witnesses would already have been "sanitized". That's just human nature: the BJMP will understandably put its best foot forward.

Kung talagang gusto ni Pangulong Duterteng masolusyunan ang mga problema sa mga bilangguan sa bansa, he should, at the very least, take note of and call on Senator Gordon, as Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to finally act on the Resolutions I filed (the 14-month old PSRN 97 on "the current state of jails and penitentiaries all over the country" filed on 15 August 2016, and PSRN 357 on the "secret jail found in Manila Police District Station 1," filed on 3 May 2017) and accordingly conduct inquiries in aid of legislation to come up with a comprehensive solution on how to decongest and improve conditions in jails and detention facilities all over the country.

I already called on Senator Gordon to act on this, particularly PSRN 97, way back in January of this year, through a letter dated 10 January 2017, received by his office on the same day, wherein I even furnished him a series of photographs published by the respectable Time Magazine which starkly captured the congestion problem prevailing in the country's jails and prisons. But, to this day, no hearings have been conducted on said Resolution, or on PSRN 357.

In fact, in my Dissenting Report on the EJK probe, dated 9 December 2016, I even drew attention to one of the Position Papers submitted to the Committee, prepared by iDEFEND, which specifically recommended drug policy reforms related to the problems of congestion in jails (i.e., not to put non-violent drug dependents, who could be better served in rehabilitation and similar facilities, in jails where they will be in close proximity with, and exposed to, those accused of committing violent crimes). Unfortunately, that has been left unaddressed too.

As it stands, therefore, 429 days after I filed PSRN 97, 310 days since I filed my Dissenting Report, 284 days since I wrote Senator Gordon to conduct hearings on the problem of jail congestion, 168 days since I filed PSRN 357, and with congestion rates currently being reported at an average of 600%, President Duterte finally conducts an announced jail visit at Camp Bagong Diwa, but only to end up pronouncing that he will provide them with a few TV sets. That does not compute. That makes no sense. That is not quite right.

If the President honestly wants to address the problems plaguing our jails and penitentiaries (which he should, if he is also sincere in his commitment to combat the drug problem), then he should do more than just promise the detainees at Camp Bagong Diwa some TV sets. That is not even a band-aid solution: that is not a solution at all, but trickery.

Propaganda, misinformation and diversionary tactics can only go so far. People will eventually wise up. At some point, he will have to back up his so-called "tapang" and supposed "malasakit" with concrete actions that would truly result in enduring solutions. At some point the people will call out his fraud and hypocrisy.

But, maybe, the President does not really care about solving problems - whether it be about the drug trade, the jail congestion problem, the traffic problem, etc. Maybe this is just him being on damage control mode because of his sagging popularity. After all, why would he suddenly take interest in the severe congestion and sub-human/degrading condition of detainees, after previously demeaning and berating them (even calling some of them "not human")?

Whatever the reason may be, one thing is for sure: if no one is willing and able to call out this President's B.S., i.e., if political dissenters are silenced, then there will be no one left that will keep him honest to his promises and commitments or, in this case, even superficially honest.

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