Philippines plans summit to seek solutions to ease prison overcrowding

Jason Gutierrez
Philippines plans summit to seek solutions to ease prison overcrowding Inmates sleep inside the Quezon City Jail in Metro Manila, March 27, 2020.
[Maria Tan/AFP]

The Philippines will hold a high-level consultation summit next week to find solutions to ease congestion in the country’s overburdened prisons, a senior official said Friday.

The planned summit comes as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is expected to pardon about 1,000 inmates this Christmas as part of the country’s efforts to decongest jails that saw a sharp uptick in population during his predecessor’s tenure. 

“Stakeholders and even those who have had experience in jails will come and brief us and give us a comprehensive analysis of the problem and possible solutions to quell or prevent [the overcrowding problem] from happening in the future,” Mico Clavano, Department of Justice assistant secretary, told reporters.

He said representatives of the Justice and Interior departments, as well as the Supreme Court, will seek strategies to reduce inmate admissions, speed up release procedures and expand some facilities.

On Friday, an Amnesty International spokesman welcomed the government’s announcement, stating that the overcrowding was the result of a system problem of the country’s “retributive justice system.”

The Southeast Asian country has long wrestled with its overloaded prisons, but the problem was exacerbated during the tenure of former President Rodrigo Duterte, who launched a bloody crackdown on alleged drug offenses and other crimes, advocates allege.

The so-called war on drugs saw the country’s security forces kill as many as 8,000 people in alleged extrajudicial executions, according to government figures, prompting the Hague-based International Criminal Court to launch an investigation against Duterte.

Security forces also detained thousands on low-level drug offenses, including many who were merely drug users, according to the advocates.

“While former President Duterte’s war on drugs inadvertently exposed the inhumanely overcrowded Philippine jails, the overpopulation in our detention centers is not a new phenomenon,” Wilnor Papa, an activist with Amnesty International Philippines, told BenarNews. “It is a continuous problem that was overlooked by past administrations.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice will submit names of about 1,000 inmates for Marcos to grant clemencies for Christmas, Clavano said.

“Every Christmas, we give a list to the PPA,” he said, referring to the Parole and Probation Administration. “Then, eventually, it goes up to the executive secretary. Last year, it was close to 1,000, so we’re expecting a similar number this year.”

Overcrowded prisons

A 2022 survey found that the Southeast Asian nation had about 199,079 “persons deprived of liberty,” accounting for a rate of 179 per 100,000 people, Clavano said.

As many as 70% of those behind bars were not convicted of any crimes, the survey found.

The detention facilities for people undergoing trials are particularly overcrowded, he said, noting that 70% of the facilities are at more than three times their capacity on average.

One such facility in Quezon City has the highest congestion rate at 1,330 percent of capacity.

Clavano said many of the inmates not convicted of crimes were detained because they didn’t have money to post bail.

Amnesty International said the Quezon City Jail had “gained notoriety for shockingly high levels of overcrowding,” and situations at the prison were “considered among the worst in the world.”

Journalists who were allowed to inspect the jail during the Duterte regime reported that nearly all available spaces were taken over by inmates.

Many slept side-by-side in a stairwell or in the outdoor basketball court, while others simply did not have a space to sleep. 

Clavano noted that rules require jails to have about 4.8 square meters of space per inmate.

“This is very far from what we’re seeing now,” he said.


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