Looking into the food system of PH inmates

Jodesz Gavilan

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Looking into the food system of PH inmates
Nelson Mandela once said that no one knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. What will the food system inside prisons and jails say about the Philippines?

MANILA, Philippines – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the right to food covers every human being – even those in conflict with the law.

To be more specific, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRTP) set by the United Nations explicitly order administrations to provide people in confinement with food.

If prisoners or detainees – or anyone in any form of detention – are deprived of adequate food, it can be considered “torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.”

In the Philippines, the right to food of prisoners is embodied in the guidelines of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

The BJMP of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) handles provincial, city, district, and municipal jails where inmates undergoing trial are confined. The inmates in jails are called detainees.

BuCor – under the Department of Justice (DOJ) – oversees the national prisons and penitentiaries such as the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. The people confined here are those serving more than 3 years and are called prisoners.

Philippine setting

According to the Inmate’s Orientation Sheet of the BJMP, the right to adequate food is in accordance to the Prisoner Subsistence Allowance (PSA).

Meanwhile, Republic Act No. 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013 mandates that “the safekeeping of inmates shall include decent provision of quarters, food, water and clothing in compliance with established United Nations standards.”

According to the 2015 budget of BuCor, the daily allowance for food of each prisoner is P50 ($1.13)*. For 41,413 “assumed” number of prisoners, the total budget amounts to P755,787,250 ($17,027,886.74).

The same daily subsistence allowance is given to each detainee of the BJMP. The amount P1,555,338,000 ($35,041,765.14) covers 85,224 detainees, according to the bureau’s 2015 budget.

In summary, the total of 3 meals each detainee/prisoner consumes should not exceed P50: P10 ($.10) for breakfast, P20 ($.45) for lunch, and P20 ($.45) for dinner.

Okay for adequate food?

The UN Council on Human Rights also mandates that in addition to what’s supposed to be given in the usual hours, food provided should be adequate to maintain health and strength, should be of decent quality, and be properly prepared and served.

Is this amount enough to provide “food of nutritional value” as mandated by the United Nations?

The Pinggang Pinoy, the daily food guide developed by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), said that a nutritious meal consists of one cup of rice, one cup of vegetables, one portion of meat, and one fruit. 

However, P439 ($.9.79) is needed each day to feed 5 people. If divided, it means that P87.8 ($1.9) should be allotted each day for 3 nutritious meals of one person. (READ: Is the minimum wage enough for a day’s worth of nutritious meals?)

The mandated subsistence allowance of P50 is only 56% of the needed budget.

However, according to the Revised Standards on Food Service Management (FSM) of the BJMP, weekly menus are prepared with an inmate representative and are well reviewed to “ensure that the nutrition contents are based on and follow the recommended daily nutritional requirements for normal healthy individuals.”

Meanwhile, BuCor boasted of “improved catering services based on value for money” in their 2013 Accomplishment Report. According to the report, a policy change in the system focuses now on selecting the food contractor that can provide the best food nutritional content with the given budget.

The previous system of BuCor that focused so much on finding the lowest-bidding contractor led to low quality food and poor nutrition among inmates, it added.

However, human rights groups call on the “inhuman and degrading” conditions experienced by prisoners and detainees – including the bad food system.

According to Karapatan or the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, there are cases where detainees are served with “below standard nutrition” meals consisting of a cup of rice, porridge for breakfast, a cup full of water boiled with squash or sayote, half a can of sardines for lunch, and an egg or a small fish, and a cup of rice for dinner.  

NATIONAL BILIBID PRISON. The NBP of the Bureau of Corrections is the main insular penitentiary. File photo of Rappler

The group added that prisoners are threatened against complaining about the food rations.

Meanwhile, in 2005, Hurights Osaka released a report on the situation behind bars in Manila City Jail. According to the report, inmates likened their meals “which would look like a feed, mush or worse, slop” to the way “cows are fed in ranches” and often call their mealtime as ranch time. The food, it said, is of “little nutritional value and prepared in an unsanitary way.”

Exceptions, privilege of the ‘VIPs’?

Aside from the accusations of food below the appropriate standard in several prisons and jails, the food system is also laden with controversies.

As much as possible, the budget given should be followed in order to not overspend and compromise other factors.

However, it seems not the case for some controversial inmates.

During her first week of detention in Fort Sto Domingo in Sta Rosa, Laguna, the alleged mastermind of the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam, Janet Napoles, was provided meals that looked like they exceeded the daily allowance. (READ: Not VIP? Napoles meals exceed budget for ordinary inmate)

In addition, a plunder complaint was filed against top officials in the BJMP in line with alleged misappropriation of funds.

According to Jail Inspector Angelina Bautista who filed the case at the Office of the Ombudsman on March 20, 2015, the BJMP still reported expenditures for subsistence allowance for inmates despite the existing memorandum of agreement (MOA) that the provincial government of Bataan will appropriate funds for the food of the inmates.

This MOA will last during the transition period or until the jurisdiction of the Bataan Provincial Jail is transferred to the BJMP.

“The accumulated amount from August 10, 2010 to August 2013 could reach up to P50 million ($1.126 million),” Bautista said.

Nelson Mandela once said that “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” – Rappler.com

*P44.40 = $1 

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.