Those VIP detention joints

by Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Jun 22 2014 09:57 PM | Updated as of Jun 23 2014 05:57 AM

The last we heard from Senator Bong Revilla’s family, following that drawn-out surrender drama, was that he needs an air cooler for his special cell – more a studio — in the Philippine National Police custodial center. His wife, Rep. Lani Mercado, says the heat gives him migraine.

Revilla’s new flat may be well below the standards of the clan’s sprawling Cavite homes. But as TV news footage shows, it’s comfortable enough.

An outcry soon followed, with memes spreading on social media.

One compared the cells renovated for Revilla and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile — all three charged with the non-bailable crime of plunder — with the bunkhouses for Yolanda survivors. The meme’s subtext is, that Revilla and company are accused of heinous crimes while Yolanda folk’s only crime is that of existence.

Previous news reports, quoting government agencies, have shown the Yolanda bunkhomes to be of substandard stuff. This news video also reports an old man dying from heat stroke and children falling ill. His widow notes the stifling heat and that electricity use is only for lights. Only last night, I chatted with two young women whose families live in these facilities. They told me the drainage in the makeshift communities is of the same bad standard, causing unhealthy flooding during heavy rains.

The administration’s staunchest supporters complain that the memes are meant to draw attention to perceived government slights rather than stress the issue of justice. In one report, a priest notes that the senators have not yet been convicted and “jail” is the wrong term to use.

The good priest will probably be interested in this second comparison shared by Bayan Patroller Abdur Rashid Santos.

It shows a cell for holding people arrested for more minor crimes — theft, for example. There is no bed behind the bars. The toilet puts anyone at risk for tetanus.

The people penned in this space have also not been convicted. Many cannot afford lawyers nor bail. Some will rot in municipal and provincial jails while on trials that go on for years.

The good priest might also be interested in what Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno has to say about the country’s criminal justice system. The news article is headlined, “Too poor to post bail, thousands spend years in jail without conviction”.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno described as “dysfunctional” the current jail system in the Philippines, a system that forces inmates to take turns in sleeping inside cramped detention cells.

“While it is not yet a detainee’s turn, he will have to stand up while another one takes a nap… This in itself is condemnable, even before they are sentenced,” Sereno said during the public interviews of candidates for the Sandiganbayan’s presiding justice conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council on Thursday.

“For many of these prisoners, they have already accepted that a life in prison—while their cases are pending—are already their alternative lives. This is alarming to me,” she added.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.