MANILA, Philippines – Families of prisoners on Friday, October 25, urged authorities to reinstate visitation hours amid alleged inhumane treatment of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) suspended the visitation privileges starting the first week of October as it started the demolition of shanties in the national penitentiary. (LOOK: BuCor, police demolish shanties in Bilibid)
In a press conference, families and rights group KAPATID lamented that they have not seen their relatives due to the lockdown at the maximum security compound and expressed concern over allegations of abuse of inmates during the NBP operations.
Lyka Halum, who law saw her husband Arnel in May, recounted the dire situation of inmates who often do not get enough food to eat nor medicines needed as BuCor implements “stricter” guidelines.
“Sana naman po maawa kayo sa mga bilanggo. Kung ganyan na po ang nararamdaman nila, isipin ‘nyo na lang po ang nangyayari rin sa mga pamilyang naiwan nila sa labas,” she said.
(Please take pity on the prisoners. If they’re feeling that way, just imagine what’s happening to the families they left behind.)
During a Senate hearing in early October, it was revealed that BuCor only spent P39 out of the P60-budget allotted per NBP prisoner and that the food served were mostly broth, and sometimes spoiled. (READ: ‘Puro sabaw’: BuCor only uses P39 of P60-food budget per prisoner)
The United Nations, in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRTP), explicitly order governments to provide people in confinement with food as deprivation can be considered “torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.” (READ: Looking into the food system of PH inmates)
Dolores Pangilinan, head of Samahan ng mga Pamilya ng Nasa Death Row, said her husband was prevented from accessing his medicine for 12 days.
In September, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a “total revamp” of BuCor under Gerald Bantag as the agency faces several controversies, including the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs in Bilibid, the release of unqualified prisoners under the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law. and hospital passes for sale schemes, among others.
According to Pangilinan, families do not object to reforms implemented inside Bilibid. She urged authorities to investigate possible involvement of employees in sneaking contraband into the facility, and to not just pin the blame on families and inmates.
“Ito ba ‘yung solution sa mga kontrabando sa loob? Ang solution siguro, i-proseso ng tama ang lahat, ang empleyado tingnan natin,” she said. “Ang mga dalaw, binubulatlat na kami, halos hubaran ‘nyo na kami, pinapatuwad ‘nyo na kami.“
(Are these the right solutions against contraband getting inside Bilibid? The solution is to process everything correctly, including employees. We visitors have been extensively searched, almost stripped naked, and you even make us bend over.)
“Ang nais namin, respetuhin nila ang karapatang pantao ng mga inmates (What we want them to respect the human rights of inmates), ” Pangilinan added.
Don’t dismiss concerns
KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim called on the BuCor to lift the lockdown and restore visitation rights if they were sure that there’s no abuses happening within the NBP. BuCor, she said, “cannot just simply dismiss the alarm raised by families of prisoners.”
“If allowed to go uncheck, it will intesity into a humanitarian crisis,” Lim said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Rappler that he will check on these allegations.
The Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, vowed to continue investigating, and to assist families in need of support, legal or otherwise.
The concerns raised came amid another controversy involving persons deprived of liberties. The Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service told Rappler on October 22 that over 450 suspects have died while in police custody since July 2016.
The IAS is currently investigating these cases to determine whether they died of natural causes due to over-congested and dilapidated detention facilities or if they were killed behind bars. – With a report from Lian Buan/Rappler.com