Gov’t told to stop drug war to help  decongest prisons

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

THE PHILIPPINE government should stop its deadly war on drugs if it aims to decongest one of the world’s most crowded jails, according to a human rights advocate.

“It’s impossible for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to decongest prison facilities as long as the drug war continues, which is responsible for over 60% congestion rate,” Fides M. Lim, convenor of Kapatid, a support group for political prisoners, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Suspects arrested in the state’s anti-illegal drug campaign add to the congested jails that are a “revolving door” of inmates, she added.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier told the United Nations Human Rights Council the government aims to release about 5,000 inmates by June next year.

Last week, the Bureau of Corrections released more than 350 inmates who had served their sentences, Mr. Remulla told an online press briefing on Oct. 26.

The government released about the same number of inmates last month, which included the sick and elderly.

The Justice chief earlier said the national penitentiary, which was designed to house 6,000 prisoners, had 17,000 inmates.

Ms. Lim said DoJ should also review the cases of political prisoners who are detained due to “trumped-up cases.”

“Political prisoners may be but a fraction of the prison population but their incarceration embodies the greatest injustice in our midst,” she said.

With 215,000 prisoners nationwide, Philippine jails and prisons are overfilled more than five times their official capacity, making them the most overcrowded prison system in the world, according to the World Prison Brief.

Many of the country’s jails fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch.

DoJ plans to build a P2.5-billion “world-class” maximum security facility in the town of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro, Mr. Remulla said in August.

It also plans to relocate the national penitentiary’s minimum security facility to Nueva Ecija in northern Philippines.

Ms. Lim said the country’s jails should be run by trained civilians instead of military personnel.

“Why is it that every problem in this country should have a military solution that is essentially punitive in nature when the central argument for prison reform is human rights?” she asked.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has repeatedly flagged the worsening congestion in the country’s jails, more recently spurred by the arrests of suspects in ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands.

The CHR also said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent inquiries and failing to prosecute erring cops.

The United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said the government’s probe of human rights violations in connection with its deadly drug war lacks transparency.

Mr. Remulla told the UN council on Oct. 6 the government aims to “change the culture” of the local justice system, which he said is prone to delays.

Political analysts have said the government should keep its promise to the UN to overhaul its justice system or risk losing its credibility. — John Victor D. Ordoñez