MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) on Monday entered into an agreement that will see a review of human rights policies affecting persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), training of jail personnel and decongestion of detention facilities.
“This is the first time, actually, that the CHR and BJMP are entering into an agreement to address the rights of the PDLs,” CHR chair Richard Palpal-Latoc told the media during the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the two agencies.
“So basically, the MOA is a technical cooperation between the two agencies, CHR and BJMP, to first and foremost to capacitate the BJMP personnel on the human rights aspect of their works,” he added.
Part of the agreement is a 3-day training on human rights this week, where 42 BJMP human rights desk officers will take part.
The creation of a human rights desks in jails and a human right office are just some of the measures the BJMP have taken to look after the welfare of PDLs, according to BJMP chief Jail Director Ruel Rivera.
He said they have also partnered with various NGOs and other government agencies in adopting policies anchored in international and local laws that advocate respect for human rights.
A key component of the CHR-BJMP partnership is a review of BJMP facilities to make sure that they comply with human rights standards.
“Magkakaroon po tayo ng mga adjustment and nakakatuwa nga po kasi kasama na namin ang Commission on Human Rights…Although alam naman po namin ang mga karapatan ng bawat isa nating PDL but with the help of the Human Rights Commission, guided na po kami, anong kailangan, ano talaga yung bawal, anong hindi namin gagawin,” Rivera explained.
-- TORTURE --
One of the areas the review will focus on is on torture.
The CHR, in the past 10 years, has consistently exposed incidents of torture in different detention facilities in various parts of the country, including the so-called “wheel of torture” inside a secret police detention facility in Biñan, Laguna in January 2014 and a 5-feet wide jail hidden behind a bookshelf in a police station in Manila in April 2017.
Palpal-Latoc said no less than the Philippine Constitution has expressly prohibited torture, in line with international agreements that the Philippines is a party to.
“Torture is universally abhorred. Bawal talaga sya. Lahat ng States agreed that torture is not allowed. So kaya may focus din talaga on torture and other ill-treatment issues,” he said.
Lawyer Julie Ann Regalado, OIC of CHR’s prevention cluster, said part of the partnership is the development of torture screening tools and a referral pathway to facilitate reporting of torture incidents.
Rivera said that while there were reports of torture in the past, these incidents are no longer commonplace and the agency has adopted a policy of mandatory reporting of all torture cases.
“Hindi na po sila ganun kaano kasi naman po, dati po punitive ang approach ng ating penology and jail system. Ngayon po, rehabilitative na po. Still, kailangan pa rin po natin gawin yun para proteksyunan sa future na ito ay mangyari… Kailangan ho nakasulat para may susundin tayo,” he explained.
In June this year, a commotion broke out in the male dorm of the Malabon City Jail after PDLs protested alleged mistreatment by jail officials.
In August 2022, PDLs from Pototan, Iloilo staged a protest on the roof of their jail facility claiming they were fed only once a day.
Jail officials have previously cited jail congestion as among the root causes of the protests.
-- DECONGESTION --
Under the partnership, the two agencies will look into more ways to decongest BJMP’s jails.
BJMP reported in July that congestion rate in Philippine jails has gone down from 387 percent in 2022 to 358 percent this year, as more jail facilities are being built.
There are now 479 jail facilities in the Philippines, 142 of which were newly built.
But detention facilities like the San Mateo Municipal Jail Mail Dorm in Rizal still has a 2,091 percent congestion rate, according to BJMP spokesperson Jayrex Bustinera.
The jail, with a cell area of 110 square meters, should only house 24 detainees but currently has 504 PDLs.
“Pero huwag po kayo mag-alala kasi ‘yung mayor pinuntahan ko na po, magdo-donate sila ng lupa na 1,600 square meters then nagrequest na rin po tayo ng pondo kasi napakataas na po talaga. Kapag pumunta kayo doon, tapos kapag bumabaha, medyo nililipat po namin sila doon,” Rivera said.
Palpal-latoc, for his part, said efforts will include prioritizing the release of “overstaying” detainees or those who have served out their sentences, those with medical conditions and senior citizens.
The MOA between CHR and BJMP is effective today until December 31, 2028.
-- REINTEGRATION --
Beyond the current partnership, Rivera said the 2 agencies are now discussing a “reintegration” program for detainees to help prepare them for life beyond the jail.
“Hindi lang po human rights kundi karapatan nila magkaroon ng trabaho paglaya nila kasi the stigma is there. Tutulungan kami ng [Commission on] Human Rights, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), upang paglaya nila, magkaroon sila ng trabaho at karapatang magtrabaho at makabalik sa lipunan,” he said.