After demolition, elderly prisoners sleep outdoors in Bilibid

Mara Cepeda
After demolition, elderly prisoners sleep outdoors in Bilibid

Lisa Marie David

(UPDATED) Makabayan lawmakers visit the New Bilibid Prison to check on the living conditions of inmates

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The demolition of shanties at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) has allegedly forced several elderly inmates to sleep outdoors.

Several leftist lawmakers learned about this during a visit to the maximum security compound of the NBP on Tuesday, October 29.

‘Yong mga dating kubol, isang paraan para ma-alleviate ‘yung kalagayan ng [mga inmate]…. Pero giniba lahat. So totoo, ‘yong sitwasyon na ‘yong iba daw, natutulog sa mga kalsada doon at kapag umulan, takbuhan na raw kung saan puwedeng silungan,” said Bayan Muna Representative Ferdinand Gaite.

(The shanties were supposed to be a way to help alleviate the condition of the inmates…. But they demolished all of it. So the situation where some of them are sleeping on the roads in the compound is true, and whenever it rains, they’d have to run for cover.)

Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative France Castro said this was “deplorable.”

“Kalunos-lunos ito. Human beings din sila. Dapat nating itrato [bilang] tao sila, na may karapatan din sa basic needs,” she said.

(This is heartbreaking. They are also human beings. We should treat them like human beings who have a right to basic needs.)

With Castro and Gaite at the inspection were Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate and Fides Lim, spokesperson of rights group.

Visitation rights were suspended for 3 weeks to give way to the demolition of illegal structures inside the prison. Families of inmates and KAPATID earlier claimed that as many as 7 prisoners died since October 15 due to dehydration and lack of medicines, as relatives agonized over the lack of access to the inmates.

INSPECTION. Bayan Muna Representative Ferdinand Gaite and Carlos Zarate, ACt Teachers Representative France Castro, and KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim inside the NBP. Photo by Lisa Marie David/Rappler

Aside from lack of proper sleeping quarters, there is also intermittent power supply in the NBP, said Gaite, noting that there is electricity in the facility only from 4 pm to 8 pm.

“Mainit. At of course, gaya ng sabi natin, human beings ‘yong mga kasamahan natin dito at may right pa rin sila sa proper facilities (It’s hot. And of course, like we said, our brothers here are human beings and they still have a right to proper facilities.) 

Fast humanitarian response needed

Remnants of the clearing operations could still be seen at Quadrant 1 of the maximum security compound, where prisoners fill their water jugs beside piles of debris.  

Just below the view deck where reporters were allowed to stay, an inmate was holding his own pack of dextrose as another prisoner pushed his wheelchair under the heat of the sun.

MEDICAL CARE NEEDED. A sick inmate's wheelchair is being pushed by another prisoner under the heat of the sun. Photo by Lisa Marie David/Rappler

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag wanted to demolish the shanties in the NBP to help curb the number of contraband items being smuggled inside. But the Makabayan legislators said the demolition turned out to be a double-edged sword, as several prisoners now have no decent place to stay in the overcrowded NBP. 

Zarate said they wanted to meet with Bantag on Tuesday, but the BuCor chief was not in the premises. The Makabayan lawmakers will return to NBP on November 15, hoping they could air their concerns to Bantag directly then.

“Kaya ‘yon lang ang pakiusap natin – sa tuloy-tuloy na engagement na ito, na for humanitarian conditions, tingnan natin, lalong-lalo na ‘yung matatanda, ‘yung maysakit, at ‘yung mga talagang nangangailangan [ay bigyan] ng kagyat na tulong mula sa pamunuan ng NBP,” said Zarate.  

(That’s all that we’e asking – that the management of the NBP would give immediate humanitarian conditions to those who need it, especially the elderly and the sick.)

BuCor spokesperson Wena Dalagan said family visitation rights in NBP will be restored on Wednesday, October 30

Spare political prisoners 

Zarate also hopes Buildings 11A and 11 B in Quadrant 2, where 61 political prisoners currently stay, would be spared from Bantag’s demolition order.

The House Deputy Minority Leader explained that Bayan Muna had these buildings built inside NBP several years ago to cater to the political prisoners.

“Hindi kasi ito regular na brigada o structure ng NBP. Ito ‘yung mga structures na pinagawa ng Bayan Muna noong panahon pa nina Ka Satur Ocampo at nandoon ‘yung mga political prisoners. So walang assurance na hindi ito ide-demolish. Isa ‘yan sa issue na gusto naming ilatag din,” said Zarate.

(These are not regular structures of the NBP. These were the structures built by Bayan Muna during the time of Ka Satur Ocampo for the political prisoners. So there’s no assurance that these will not be demolished. This is one issue we’d like to raise.) –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.