Legarda sees approval of OPCAT to jump-start reform in jails

January 3, 2012 10:39 am 

MANILA, Jan. 2 — Senator Loren Legarda said on Monday the approval of an international agreement would jump-start the implementation of much-needed reform programs for jails and detention facilities and better treatment of prisoners, noting that the country's jails "are 201 percent" congested.

"Harsh prison conditions, overcrowded jails, inadequate nutrition and medical attention for prisoners — that sums up our prison and detention conditions today," Legarda pointed out.

Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said that the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) promotes better rehabilitation of prisoners by ensuring that they are not subjected to physical abuse and poor living condition in jails and detention centers.

"In March 2011, millions have witnessed on national TV the brutality of prison conditions, while a naked and bound robbery suspect was allegedly being tortured by police officers inside a station. There have also been incidents of rape inside police stations," Legarda said.

In June 2011, there had also been media reports that prison officials were receiving kickbacks from the food budget for National Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates, she added.

"Cases were filed because people came out and spoke against these abuses. We want to institutionalize a visitorial and documentation system for our prison and detention facilities and we want to see outcomes of government action against these violations," Legarda said.

”The OPCAT forwards the idea that through a system of regular jail visits by independent international and local monitors, torture and other forms of ill-treatment can be prevented in prisons and that jail conditions can be improved," she explained.

In calling for the Senate's concurrence in the accession to OPCAT, Legarda said that she supports the Department of Foreign Affairs' requests for a deferment of the implementation of the obligations in Part III of the treaty to allow for completion of the government's reform programs for jails and detention facilities.

Highlighting the need for such deferment, she noted the dismal situation in the country's detention cells. Jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) have a total cell area of 56,982 square meters, which can accommodate only 18,944 inmates. As of August 2009, BJMP facilities held a total of 57,007 inmates nationwide, translating into a 201 percent congestion level. As of 2010, the number of prisoners increased to 59,289.

Furthermore, the country has a ratio of about one guard to every 48 prisoners, while the international standard is one guard for every seven prisoners.

Regarding allowance for an inmate's meals, the government provides P50 per inmate each day. The daily budget for medicines is a meager P3 per inmate.

The lady senator explained that the deferment of the implementation of the obligations in Part III of the OPCAT gives the Philippines three years to improve prison, detention and custodial facilities before an international monitor can perform visits, but she emphasized that the deferment refers only to requests for visits by an international monitor and not on the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanism which is required by the OPCAT to be established within one year after accession. The OPCAT also enables States Parties to benefit from advisory, technical and financial assistance.

"We are confident that the OPCAT will strongly assist us in keeping in check acts of torture, as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of detainees. We are hopeful, that by our accession to this instrument, our jail conditions will finally be improved, making them conducive to promote the rehabilitation of its residents," Legarda stressed.

Legarda has already submitted the Committee Report on the OPCAT and has urged the Senate for the swift concurrence to the ratification of the treaty. (PNA)



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