Not back to black: COVID 19, Decreasing Cases, Philippine Jail Situations

Despite the glaring data that there is a drastic decrease of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, it may be imperative to know what the current situation of jails, persons deprived of liberty (formerly called inmates), and their families are right now.

It may be said that in the Philippines, many are not aware of the plight of PDLs. In my more than 2 years in advocacy and development work, often than not, I have to explain who the PDLs are, the work that we do, and frequently, the worthiness of giving hope to our beneficiaries.

The Philippines is known to have one of the highest jail occupancy in the world. According to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), Philippine Jails have hosted 125,347 PDLs in December 2021 with a congestion rate of 386% while the total ideal capacity of our jails is only 24,248.

The existence of the underlying unfair social and economical support stiffly bounds to the cruel and unequal welfare outcomes. The elderly and the sick’s battle to survive multiple health conditions, the PDL’s reintegration inside jail, vulnerable children’s active involvement to diversion and intervention programs, and the social challenges of former PDLs are only a few that the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. (HLAF) has been addressing.

We must believe that there should be no barrier that older people and PDLs with long-term medical conditions should be transported to hospitals or temporary medical facilities within detention centers where they can receive the appropriate medical care since there is lack of the provision of proper health care and assistance in Philippine Jails.

I still haven’t heard well from the public news on the government’s concrete plan to address the on-going health crisis where PDLs must be included in the National Action Plan for COVID-19, although I know the actions, programs, events, and partnership activities from the BJMP.

Until now, since the COVID-19 information sharing is only little to none to PDLs, it must be called to action that PDLs must be kept up to date on what is going on in the world, particularly in relation to health crisis. PDLs should also be informed about how to prevent themselves and others from contracting and spreading the virus.

Many prisons and jails have restricted PDLs’ access to the outside world by prohibiting physical visits from relatives, friends, and even their lawyers should they already have. Physical contact to families, friends, and the community outside jail have transitioned to online such as E-Dalaw (visitation), E-Konsulta (case consultation), and even E-Burol (wake/burial).

Authorities should ensure that PDLs are not cut off from the outside world while restricting interaction. It should be remembered that interaction is necessary for persons in jail to maintain their mental health.

NGOs in Action

While it was very tough for service providers on how they can connect their efforts, non-government organizations (NGOs) such as HLAF, its partners, and friends did not stop conducting their activities even online.

In 2021, HLAF’s continuation of its Jail Decongestion program has released more than 1,600 PDLs, conducted 1,426 case consultations, visited 7 jails online, and facilitated 56 paralegal trainings for PDLs and jail officers.

HLAF strengthened the access to justice of detainees through jail
decongestion, capacity building, coordination, and knowledge sharing by
promoting the detainees’ right to liberty, health, and reformation. It has also
established programs in legal aid clinics and enhanced the abilities of law
students to conduct and facilitate the program’s activities.

Our Call

PDLs must be provided with sufficient food and water for both nutrition and cleanliness. The access to proper and sufficient number of hygiene kits (soap, alcohol, sanitizers, wipes) of PDLs must be ensured to promote safety of co-PDLs, staff, and visitors (if allowed).

The government should fund more electronic devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, and projectors for the sufficient availability of online (e-dalaw, e-konsulta, e-burol) and educational use to ensure the rights of PDLs.

Service providers such as NGOs, and other external partnerships must be continued and allowed for PDLs to avail services and activities that can promote their rights, welfare, and well-being inside jail.

Lastly, expedite the release of cases with light offenses, as well as see through PDLs who have been over-staying, those whose cases aren’t regularly heard and brought to court, sick, PWD, and elderly PDLs, and those unaware of their rights.

It’s not back to being black, as we’re still seeing PDLs whose eyes are shining with hope and change after reintegrating back to the community.


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