By Hannah Torregoza
Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday reiterated her call for the government to address the worsening subhuman conditions and congestion inside the country’s jails and penitentiaries.
De Lima pointed out the congestion in jails was precipitated by the Duterte administration’s all-out war on illegal drugs.
The senator made the call following a Commission on Audit (COA) report noted that as of December 31, 2017, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has total detainees of 146,302 in several jails despite a total land area that can ideally accommodate 20,653 inhabitants.
In its report, COA cited the arrest of 140,000 suspected drug offenders who failed to post bail due to poverty.
The state audit agency also blamed the slow resolution of cases in lower courts as the causes of the overpopulation in the country’s detention centers that reached an overcapacity of 612 percent in 2017.
De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, pressed her colleagues to act on a number of resolutions she earliet filed which seek to address the problems that have long been plaguing the country’s prison system.
She earlier filed Senate Resolution No. (SRN) 97, calling for a legislative inquiry into the current state of jails and penitentiaries in the country. She also filed SR No. 590, seeking an investigation into the continued failure of the BJMP to complete jail facility projects.
“I hope my colleagues realize the urgency of the matter and finally address the issue concerning our overcrowded detention cells by starting its public hearings on the two resolutions I’ve filed some months ago,” de Lima said.
“The inmates may have disobeyed some laws and rules of our society, but like every human being, they are still entitled to enjoy basic human rights,” she stressed.
The lawmaker said the COA report should serve as an “eye-opener” for the appropriate Senate committees to conduct a probe as densely congested prison cells can lead to severe problems in jail management, including but not limited to shortage of food and drinking water, substandard sleeping accommodation and diseases.
The COA report also noted that the condition at BJMP jails further forced detainees to join gangs who promised them safety and access to contraband and exposed them to various kinds of illnesses.
“The congestion in the prison cells is also worrisome because it also leads to increased affiliation of prisoners who join ragtag gangs believing it will provide them with protection and social support,” she said.
” No doubt, severe congestion is the root cause of prison-based criminality,” she added.
Likewise, she said Duterte administration’s campaign against loiterers may also aggravate the problem on jail congestion.