CHR: Uphold VIP inmates’ right to counsel, family visits but…

Reynaldo Santos Jr
CHR: Uphold VIP inmates’ right to counsel, family visits but…
CHR chair Loretta Ann Rosales says these rights 'must be processed within a framework where the collective right of the Filipino people to security must equally be protected'

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said that while authorities should uphold the rights to legal counsel and family visits of high-profile inmates temporarily removed from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), such rights should be “processed” with public safety in mind.

CHR chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales made the statement on Monday, December 29, following the string of surprise inspections of the Department of Justice on the maximum security facility over reports of VIP treatment for some convicted drug lords and murderers.

Rosales said that as part of the CHR’s mandate, she paid a visit on December 27 to the convicts who had been relocated to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) compound in Manila.

She said inmates told her she was their “first visitor,” and that they had no complaints about food,  shelter and treatment of authorities, but they wanted to see their lawyers and families.

“The NBI and BUCOR custodians were kind and hospitable, but the inmates wanted to see their lawyers and their loved ones. I assured them that, as a general rule, inmates have a right to their lawyers and visits from their loved ones, just like ordinary inmates,” Rosales said.

She added, however, that the concerned inmates are “not ordinary.”

“They are high-profile, high-risk inmates that deserve special attention. Their rights to their lawyers and visits from their loved ones must be processed within a framework where the collective right of the Filipino people to security must be equally protected,” the CHR chief said.

She stressed: “That this basic right of the nation’s people is now found to be gravely threatened by the existence of prohibited drugs, contraband, cash, guns, and grenade found within the ‘kubols’ of the 19 convicts demands nothing less than the surgical operation for a total stop to drug trafficking from the penitentiary to the clandestine markets outside the penitentiary’s gates.”

The convicts had been taken out of the NBP following the raids prompted by reports that high-profile inmates are running their illegal drug trade behind bars. 

The raids also exposed the luxurious lifestyle of some inmates, who managed to build their own posh flats within the maximum security facility. 

The DOJ earlier claimed that the rights of the inmates were not violated when they were transferred to the NBI compound.

Right to public security

Rosales said  that the existence of prohibited drugs and other contrabands found in the NBP raids has already threatened the public’s right to security.

She said De Lima’s estimate – that eliminating drug trafficking in the NBP can reduce crime by 20% to 30 % nationwide – “jibes with the CHR’s experience in jail visits nationwide where the ratio of drug-related offenses averages anywhere from 50% to 80%.”

Rosales said that the “collective right of a people to peace, security and safety against heinous crimes related to drug trafficking is a fundamental concern not just of the government but all sectors of society.”

“Thus it is the primordial concern of everyone within government and outside government to make sure that the investigating and arresting teams under the DOJ are given full support in order to be able to cut off completely, totally and unconditionally all possible and probable links, ties, connection, and leakages while taking into consideration the basic rights of all convicted inmates to legal counsel and family visits,” Rosales added.

In a radio interview on Tuesday, December 30, De Lima said her department is still conducting an in-depth probe on the existence of illegal drugs in the NBP.

“The drug transactions are tied up to personalities in the NBP. We’re still tracing who their connections and protectors are. We cannot rule that out. They definitely have protectors within and outside outside government,” she said. –

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