Inhuman and Degrading Prison Conditions

The case of Andrea Rosal exemplifies the dreadful situation in Philippine prisons and detention centers. Rosal is a woman political prisoner whose only offense, if one would consider it as such, is being the daughter of the late spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines Ka Roger Rosal. She faces charges of murder and kidnapping with murder after she was arrested in Caloocan City on March 27. To make things worse for Andrea, 28, she is now in her full term and due to give birth to a baby girl anytime soon. This is her first pregnancy and she barely knows what to expect.


The case of Andrea Rosal exemplifies the dreadful situation in Philippine prisons and detention centers. Rosal is a woman political prisoner whose only offense, if one would consider it as such, is being the daughter of the late spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines Ka Roger Rosal. She faces charges of murder and kidnapping with murder after she was arrested in Caloocan City on March 27. To make things worse for Andrea, 28, she is now in her full term and due to give birth to a baby girl anytime soon. This is her first pregnancy and she barely knows what to expect.



Rosal was first brought to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters in Manila where she was kept in a cramped and extremely hot cell most unfit for a pregnant woman.  While at the NBI jail, she complained of abdominal cramps but there was no doctor to check her up. The jail nurse only asked her to fill up a form for her medical certificate. 

Andrea was allowed to see her doctor two days after her arrest and was prescribed hospital confinement and other laboratory procedures. Instead of immediately granting her court motion for immediate hospital confinement, she was transferred to the female dormitory for detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

Rule 48 of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders: Pregnant or breastfeeding women prisoners shall receive advice on their health and diet under a programme to be drawn up and monitored by qualified health practitioner. Adequate and timely food, a healthy environment and regular exercise opportunities shall be provided free of charge for pregnant women, babies, children and breastfeeding mothers… Women prisoners shall not be discouraged from breastfeeding their children, unless there are specific health reasons to do so.

Andrea currently shares the cell with 24 other female detainees, some of whom are also political prisoners. Each cell has only a window built along the building’s corridor; no window is built where fresh air and sunlight could get through. 
Due to her arrest, Andrea did not have the chance to prepare for the baby’s needs, such as diapers, clothes, etc. She has to stop taking her supplements and has to make do with prison food rations, usually just rice and a meagre amount of fish or boiled vegetable.

When Andrea gives birth, she is reportedly given only 24 hours to be with her baby, a very short period for her to feed her child with colostrum and eventually breastfeed her.

The threat of separation hanging over Andrea and her baby violates the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) on breastfeeding and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and sustained breastfeeding for more than two years. Breasfeeding should be done in an environment where both baby and mother are properly fed and cared for, where the mother can also have the health and stamina to nurture her child, free from unnecessary stress and discomfort. Article 7 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child stipulates that the child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. 

The male political prisoners detained in the nearby facility described the condition at the Female Dorm as too strict and rigid, “hindi yata alam ng mga gwardya na hindi na martial law ngayon” (It would seem the guards assigned in the female dorm are not aware that martial law had been lifted). The guards are stricter than in other detention facilities. 

Sunning privileges in prisons are limited and detainees are only allowed to exercise at the already cramped corridors of the building. Reading materials are often not allowed, even writing materials. Medicines, even those prescribed by doctors, are subject to the warden’s approval. Once approved, the detainees have to get their medicine at the Warden’s office on a daily basis.

Prisoners in detention facilities go through these conditions every single day.  Some prisons may even be worse than those that were already reported. The prisoners can either get used to it or suffer each day. But for human rights standards, this may be considered torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, which are prohibited under the 1987 Philippine Constitution and the Anti-Torture law.

Frequently violated are provisions in international instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and, the Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (or the Bangkok Rules). 

The cruel conditions in jail are, by and large, a result of the framework of retribution and punishment in the Philippine prison system. Prisoners are punished by depriving them of their basic rights to speedy justice, nutrition and food, decent shelter, clean and potable water, among others.

As of March 31, 2014 there are 489 political prisoners in detention centers nationwide who are in squalid and punitive conditions of prison.    

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating, and ventilation. 

Very near Andrea’s detention cell is the Special Intensive Care Area-2 (SICA-2) in Camp Bagong Diwa.  In SICA-2 are 274 detainees arrested during and immediately after the Zamboanga City stand-off between the government and members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September 2013. In a statement released in February, political prisoner Alan Jazmines said the Moro detainees are “made to suffer more overly cruel and repressive conditions and treatment…”

Jazmines, a peace consultant of the NDFP, is detained in the adjacent building, SICA-1. 
“SICA-2 detainees are kept padlocked for practically the whole day and their cells are opened for only about an hour a day for them to be able to exercise along the corridor of their wing—even if they still have some difficulty to do so because the corridor then becomes very crowded,” Jazmines elaborated. “… their food rations have to be given to them in scoops that need to be shoved through the gaps between the iron bars,” Jazmines said. 

In January, jail authorities started putting up fixed iron-sheet jalousies over the iron bars of all corridors of SICA-2, depriving the detainees of fresh air and sunlight. Before the installation of the fixed iron-sheet jalousies, the SICA-2 detainees could extend their arms and open palms through the iron bars of the corridors, as if pleading for the rays of sunlight to reach them. 

“Since then, the SICA-2 detainees can no longer see anything outside their jail and others outside can no longer see them. And what remains of the very thin, hot, dry and rancid air inside their cells is now beginning to fry and suffocate them, especially as summer is in the onset,” Jazmines said.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: Every person shall, in accordance with local or national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness. 

At the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa where convicted prisoners are detained, political prisoners in the Medium Security Compound occupy one cell with some 80-90 other inmates. The cell can only accommodate 30 persons at most. With these small rooms, inmates sleep lying sideways or merely sitting. At night, the lavatory becomes a sleeping quarter by putting a cover on the toilet bowl.  In Building 4, some inmates sleep on the corridors.  They even have to pay PhP100 (~USD2) per month for the use of electricity.

In SICA-2, a 3×5 meter cell accommodates 12 detainees, while in SICA-1 the same size of cell has 6-7 detainees.  
As of July 2013, the seven prisons and penal farms of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor)-Department of Justice (DOJ) has 38,003 prisoners, far from its declared capacity at 16,091. Jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP)-Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) operate at an average of 260% above capacity. As of September 2013 these jails have 72,922 prisoners. Manila City Jail, with an official capacity of 1,000 inmates has 3,148 prisoners as of September 2013. 

Even Commissioner Jose Mamauag of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) cited in his paper Persons Deprived of Liberties: A Human Rights Situationer that “prisons and jails in the country are generally in subhuman conditions; they have lost their functionality, utility and habitability.” The congestion rate on a national average is 292%. In Metro Manila jails, there is only 0.89 square meter per inmate. 

In 2011, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) cited the occupancy rate of jails is already four times their capacity, and is increasing.

This situation, meanwhile, is in direct contrast with the very comfortable situation of wealthy inmates, who have comfortable cells, air-conditioning, flat screen televisions, laptops, queen-size beds, lazy-boy recliners, lucrative drug businesses within the prison, and are allowed to go out of the prison compound any time of the day. 
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Where hospital facilities are provided in an institution, their equipment, furnishings, and pharmaceutical supplies shall be proper for the medical care and treatment of sick prisoners, and there shall be a staff of suitable trained officers. 

Inmates at the National Bilibid Prison who seek medical attention are not admitted in the jail hospital unless one is nearly dying. The hospital is not even somewhere near the Medium Security premises. The nearest hospital is at the Maximum Security area, a few kilometers away.  

In September 2013, political detainee Alison Alcantara died of fatal arrhythmia, sepsis and health-care associated pneumonia. For several years, Alcantara suffered from uncontrolled diabetes and other complications.  He had been in and out of the prison hospital but did not receive proper medical attention. Doctors of the Health Alliance for Human Rights (HAHR) persistently requested for Alcantara’s confinement at the Philippine General Hospital where facilities and medical attention for his ailments are available. He was only taken to the PGH when he fell into a coma.  
From January to September 2013, the BuCor and the BJMP reported 571 deaths of inmate. Illnesses, including cardio-pulmonary arrest and pulmonary tuberculosis caused most of the deaths. Many were deprived of proper and timely medical attention. Asthma, tuberculosis, beri-beri, diabetes, cataract, hepatitis and other diseases are common among the detainees.  

Currently, there are 48 political prisoners who are suffering from various ailments and need proper medical care, which the ill-equipped prison hospitals cannot provide.  

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: Prisoners shall be required to keep their persons clean, and to this end they shall be provided with water and with such articles as are necessary for health and cleanliness… Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it. 

Water is scarce at the Medium Security unit of the NBP. Detainees have to queue to get water.  In worst situations, the detainees will only get one gallon of rust-colored water which they will use the whole day for shower, laundry, and drinking. 

In 2013, detainees in this facility were given their ration of soap only two times the whole year instead of their monthly ration. Yet, every day they are required to wear the blue shirt issued to them by the Bureau of Corrections. The Bureau issues only one shirt per detainee for the duration of their stay at the facility. 

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.  

In all prisons in the Philippines, the situation is the same: A detainee gets Php50.00 (a little more than USD1) food budget per day, divided into Php10.00-Php20.00-Php20.00 for breakfast-lunch-dinner. The detainees are served with a cup of rice porridge for breakfast; a cup full of water boiled with squash or sayote and a few pieces of leaves or half a small can of sardines for lunch; and, an egg or small fish and a cup of rice for dinner. Prisoners are threatened against complaining about the food rations given them. If they complain, they get punished by jail authorities. The below standard nutrition in jails exacerbates the poor health situation of prisoners. 

When NDFP peace consultant Ramon Patriarca was detained in Cebu Provincial jail, he organized inmates to demand for a raise in their Php50 food budget. Their actions resulted in an additional 30-peso daily food budget. But, as reprisal, Patriarca was transferred and held incommunicado for more than three years at the AFP Central Command headquarters in Camp Lapu Lapu until he was released on February 4, 2014, when charges against him were dismissed. 

At BJMP-SICA, political prisoner Rolando Laylo grew his hair long to symbolically protest his illegal arrest in 2012 and detention. A number of political prisoners joined him. In December 2012, the guards ganged up on Laylo and forced him on a bench. The guards ordered a prisoner to forcibly cut Laylo’s hair while armed men stood guard.
Worse, some prisoners are denied their right to be heard and to due process when jail officers fail to bring them to court hearings. Lame excuses such as unavailability of vehicles, lack of fuel or escorts, etc. Also, jail authorities would easily deny receipt of notices of hearings. 

At the BJMP female dorm, jail authorities use “security reasons” to prevent political prisoners from conferring with their lawyers, even on matters of hearing schedules. This is not only denial of the prisoners’ right to counsel but, it has also resulted in hitches in schedules or non-attendance of detainees in court proceedings, slowing down further the resolution of their cases. 

Visitors of political prisoners are not spared either. In Camp Bagong Diwa visitors undergo finger printing and strip search i.e., taking off clothes and underwear. Refusal to go through the strip search may lead to denial of entry and suspension of visitation rights of the detainees. Visitors condemn this serious affront to their dignity and personal privacy.

While the government tramples on the rights of political detainees and other prisoners, it spends PhP150,000 (USD3,500) monthly, or PhP5,000 (USD116) daily of people’s money for Janet Napoles to enjoy the comforts of her “detention house”. The amount covers operating expenses, utilities, food and maintenance and other needs of a person who defrauded billions of pesos of the people’s coffers and shared them with government leaders. Napoles is named as one of the cogs in the corruption scandal which rocked the BS Aquino government in 2013. 
Such is the condemnable irony in a country ruled by an elite class which serves its own interest and that of its foreign patrons, and not of the majority of the people.