IF President Rodrigo Duterte is planning to release the “political prisoners” as part of the confidence-building measures to pursue peace negotiations with communist rebels, he should also grant pardon to old and terminally-ill prisoners, who are not guilty of heinous crimes, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said on Thursday.
According to Recto, freeing prisoners sick with cancer, the aged and the infirm is one of the means to decongest overcrowded jails in the country.
The senator noted that the country’s jails are holding four times their capacity and the situation may further worsen with the administration’s war on crime and illegal drugs, as more individuals are expected to be hauled to jail.
“There’s a need to find space for them because our standing-room-only prisons are filled to the rafters,” Recto said.
He added that since building new facilities to house inmates would take time, the fastest way for the government to ease congestion in jails is to grant pardon to old and sick prisoners.
Recto said former President Benigno Aquino 3rd only exercised his power to grant executive clemency 67 times during his six-year term, and Duterte can easily surpass it by using his pardon power.
Two government agencies run the “prison republic”–the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which is under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which is under the Department of Justice (DOJ).
BJMP handles individuals awaiting trials and detainees who committed crimes with less than three years jail term, while BuCor houses those who have been sentenced to more than three years.
BJMP jails are 397 percent over capacity, wherein jail cells built for 18,881 detainees now hold 93,961.
The New Bilibid Prisons, the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila), houses more than half of BuCor’s 41,207 prisoners.
Recto has filed a resolution directing the appropriate Senate committee to look into “the worsening conditions” in the country’s prisons.
The senator in his resolution warned that “deteriorating living conditions in jails and prisons expose detainees and inmates to hazards like the onset of infectious disease epidemic, higher suicide rates, frequent inter-prisoner violence.”
“Instead of rehabilitating prisoners, harsh jail conditions could make them hardened criminals, with jails serving as masteral schools for a career in crime,” Recto warned.
Based on BJMP data, the top four most congested BJMP jails are in Malolos City, Bulacan; San Pedro, Laguna; General Trias, Cavite; and the female dormitory of Quezon City Jail, with a congestion rate of 2,000 percent.