Our execrable prisons


One item of infrastructure that government after government in this country has ignored, neglected and failed to address is the construction of decent detention facilities. That mistake is now staring us in the face.

Look at the overcrowded, inhumane and indecent jails that this country shamelessly uses to crowd in detainees without a care for their rights to decency and basic services. Whether they are convicted criminals or people on trial and under detention, these are fellow human beings entitled to humane treatment, attention and care as persons. After all, the primary thrust of jails and prisons is to rehabilitate more than to punish. And even if punishment is warranted it cannot be the cruel and unusual way of dirty, crowded, conducive to sleeplessness conditions, poor nutrition, lack of basic privacy that we inflict on felons and persons awaiting trial.

Our prisons and jails are black holes of indifference and callousness to the people we put in them. It reflects on us as a society that we allow these conditions to afflict fellow human beings, no matter that they are lawbreakers or even people unfit for society by their record of bad deeds. A life of detention and boredom, an absence of family and friends, exile from one’s native environment, a member of a herd of people judged to be given their just desserts in the form of imprisonment and hard labor, is enough retribution. The isolation and outcast status should allow for reflection, a review of conscience, a judgment of oneself, an awakening to moral principles. These are what would ideally happen if those who broke the law wish to come back to the fold. But under present circumstances where one has to fight to survive, defend oneself against others amid jungle conditions, being at risk hour by hour, day by day for food, basic services in order to exist, how can there be meditation, reflection, even prayer? That some can and have managed it is a wonder, a miracle almost. But it is rare indeed in these circumstances.

Decent prisons mean simple food, privacy to rest, time to exercise, regulated activity keeping within bounds of the rules of detention, and the time that has to be paid back to society. It is retribution enough. Let us not make it hard and unusual punishment by abominable, subhuman conditions.

What the above has spawned is a determination by anyone who has the means and the connections but who has broken the law, to avoid these jails by all means, usually extra legal ways. These self-believing august personages will pretend or exaggerate medical conditions to be given hospitalization. Or they select and gain their preferred detention center by resorting to trickery or falsehood. House arrest is a top choice or maybe staying in the office of some government official in the police or military force. They not only evade ordinary jail conditions here but demand luxuries unheard of in jails around the world such as airconditioning, comfortable furnishings, with amenities like electronic gadgets yet.

Or, if in the National Penitentiary when convicted, a little hut with all these amenities to make life comfortable with a golf cart for transport. And of course meals catered from home or restaurant. It is more than the norm for the well-off detainees as not. In other words, these cleverly connected felons to avoid the general dinginess and dirt of our prisons, go to the other extreme and manage to get a luxury life, albeit in confinement. The excuse and the compulsion are the indecent conditions in our jails. Thus, is inequality starkly exhibited—some have no beds, one sanitary facility for too many of them, no space, poor food, etc. and the well connected have what we have seen, notwithstanding their whining, luxurious detention quarters.

These recently incarcerated high government officials regard themselves not as public servants but VIP’s, with entitlements The melodrama, appeal to maudlin emotions of misplaced pity, braggadaccio statements of “I will rise again,” “I have done nothing wrong,” “Why not love instead of hatred,” poorly scripted statements that infuriate rather than make people sympathize as we note their kitchenettes, private bathrooms, windows, daily visitors laden with gifts compared to what other prisoners go through. This just makes the inequality in this society starkly clear, in your face, unjustifiable.

Yes, there are mosquitoes, rats and cockroaches there just like in most houses in the tropics in various degrees. Adjustment to environment would be the intelligent thing to do, dealing with the pests in the traditional way, following eradication protocols instead of invoking sympathy they do not merit. Yes, everyone is innocent until proven guilty by way of the law, just as the law requires that some of those on trial for serious offenses be detained. By definition jails are not resorts or retirement homes. That is the sum of it.

Time to balance things out, erect decent prisons (and lots of them, as our criminal elements specially in high places are multiplying). Put everyone who has to be kept away from society in jail when warranted without the need to adjust conditions for the comfort of the better-off or by default being cruel and callous and uncaring to those who are not.



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  1. victor m. hernandez on

    Rightly so. Decent, not luxurious, jails need to be constructed. For detention and incarceration, not for rest and relaxation, for reform and rehabilitation.

  2. noelravalsalaysay on

    In Italy they do not place in jail all persons who are 75 years and older,look at the example of PM Berlosconi; he was given community services after conviction. Senador Enrile and all persons 75 years old and above should be treated accordingly.

  3. I wouldnt wholeheartedly agree with you but if you want change you should put all celebrities & politicians ( who are charged & or jailed ) into these facilities & when they have lived in them & truly appreciate how bad they are then & only then will you even remotely have a chance of upgrading them. If the rich & famous & powerful can avoid these harsh conditions nothing will change. Its the powers that be who can change it, they make sure their own dont suffer the degrading horrible conditions most normal prisoners have to contend with, but always think of an eloquent way of saying why this person or that person should be exempt from it, e.g. enriles age, & health, well i for one dont care about his age or his health as did either stop him from committing these crimes against the people of this country.

  4. In anticipation of many high profiled gov’t officials going to jail, now the President has to modernize the penitentiary in Cabanatuan near the Fort Magsaysay for his kind and so whoever will be incarcerated will be comfortably housed unlike the poor Filipinos who has no recourse availed to defend themselves in court for justice.

  5. The double standard of justice practiced by the government in the treatment of detainees is indeed incredulous. How in the world can our government offer such luxurious accommodations – shiny showers, toilets, wash basins, comfortable beds and newly painted walls to senators accused of plundering hundreds of millions of pesos? How can these detainees feel the gravity of their offences if they enjoy such VIP treatments?

    On the other hand, the government’s inhumane treatment of ordinary prisoners is so mean and degrading. Minor detainees for instance are packed 20 to 30 kids in a single city jail cell that they can’t all sleep on the bare cement floor at the same time because there isn’t enough space for everybody to lie down on. And what are the usual charges against this minors? – thefts of small amounts of money and vagrancy. Instead of sending these kids to schools as wards of the state, there is no attempt on the part of the government to rehabilitate them so they can mature as useful citizens instead of growing up as hardened criminals.

    We take pride at the Philippines’ being the only mainly Catholic country in Asia; as such we are expected as a people to be compassionate. Yet, by the double standard we allow our government to treat prisoners, we had shown to the world our lack of compassion and respect for human rights. In our country, poor prisoners are regarded as nothing but trash by many among us. It is this hardness of heart that we, as a nation should be very ashamed of.