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Editorial

Caged life

/ 05:14 AM April 15, 2018

We are in the grip of the summer heat, and it’s fairly easy to imagine how men in extremely close quarters can possibly pass out because of it, or, as in the case of an inmate of the Pasay City police jail, pass away.

Last April 11, 30-year-old Domingo delos Santos and seven other inmates of the Pasay City police jail were rushed to hospital in a faint. Delos Santos, arrested on drug charges three weeks ago, was declared dead on arrival.

It was reported that the other inmates had to vigorously engage in a “noise barrage” to call the guards’ attention to the fallen state of their fellows.

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In his report, Chief Insp. Rogelio Hernandez said the men collapsed “due to the congestion of the facility from the great[ness] of their numbers, coupled with the rising extreme heat during summertime.”

The 22.8-square-meter facility was intended for 40 people only, but it currently holds 143. Delos Santos is said to be the third inmate to die at the jail since February due to health problems.

The incoming chief of the Philippine National Police, Director Oscar Albayalde, said on Friday that as many as 40 inmates in various police-station holding cells in Metro Manila had died since July 2016.

Of the number of deaths, eight or nine occurred at the Pasay City detention facility, “which is really congested,” he said.

Spare a thought for that detention center and other such facilities where sickness, whether physical or mental, festers without control, and where people live without any kind of personal space and are vulnerable to all manner of abuse.  (Elsewhere in this section, a law student writes in Young Blood about a jail visit and what she saw there).

There is a now famous photograph by Noel Celis of the Quezon City Jail that shows how it has become so crowded that the inmates literally have no space to even lie down properly to sleep.

In February, nine people were injured when a riot broke out because, the warden said, deteriorating conditions had made the inmates “more irritable.” The Quezon City Jail was meant to house just 800; it now holds over 3,200. Figure that out.

Back in 2014, Inquirer columnist Michael L. Tan wrote about the plight of inmates: “What’s most shocking about our prisoners is that according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, two-thirds of the prisoners are in pretrial detention while another 10-15 percent are still being tried. In total, up to 90 percent of our prisoners are still in various phases of the judicial process, or its lack thereof. They are unconvicted prisoners.”

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In a recent column, “Human wrongs,” Tan wrote: “More than overcrowding and a daily food budget of P50 per prisoner, there is the issue of wasted lives. Not just of the accused but of their families.”

As is well known, the administration’s war on drugs has brought thousands of small fry — petty users and pushers — to the already congested jails.

In April 2017, the head of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Director Serafin Barretto, said the jails were brimming with detainees from the drug war.

“Last year, we had 98,000 inmates, but now, we have almost 140,000,” Barretto said. “And if the current trend continues, it could reach 200,000. The police are zealous [in going after drug suspects].”

He identified the Biñan City Jail in Laguna as the single most congested facility in the country: It was built to accommodate only 22 inmates but it currently holds 602, or a congestion rate of 2,635 percent.

(Perhaps most damning is the inequity. In the past, surprise raids at the national penitentiary revealed that wealthy prisoners — literally dubbed the “VIPs” — were living in eye-popping luxury, with such amenities as air-conditioning, computers with Wi-Fi access, a Jacuzzi, even a top-of-the-art music studio.)

What is the government doing to ease the suffering of those in cages? Endeavors such as “National Judgment Day” — a Supreme Court initiative that holds simultaneous hearings on the same day as a way to address long-pending cases — can help in some way.

The PNP, according to its spokesperson, Chief Supt. John Bulalacao, is “doing [its] best to include in the proposed budget the construction of new police stations with improved detention facilities.”

Albayalde spoke of plans to move the Pasay City police jail to a bigger location. Meanwhile, he said, steps were being taken to decongest the holding cell. And not a moment too soon, with its population expected to swell courtesy of the Pasay police’s nightly operations in the streets.

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TAGS: Domingo delos Santos, Inquirer editorial, jail conditions, jail congestion, Pasay City jail
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