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The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology relieved the chief of its Pototan, Iloilo facility on Wednesday , August 24, after more than 100 inmates swarmed the complex’s rooftop to protest poor food rations and alleged blocking and poaching by jail officials of food sent in by their families.
Regional BJMP spokesman Jairus Anthony Dogelio announced the relief of Jail Inspector Roberto Mesiano Jr., around noon Wednesday in a briefing carried live by the local Zaraga News Live station.
Aksyon Radio-Iloilo also quoted Dogelio as saying that Jail Inspector Woody Palmejar was now in charge of the facility, which has a population of around 1,000 inmates, while the agency investigates the complaints.
The relief, Dogelio added, citing an order from the regional BJMP, was to prevent Mesiano from influencing the investigation.
The inmates, who had called on Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. to drop by the jail, voluntarily ended the protest mid-afternoon after the province’s top official appealed during his weekly conference.
“The jail is directly under the BJMP, not the province, but these are our (province) inmates,” the governor said. “I will look to see what we can do to help.”
But Defensor stressed that he presumed regularity in the BJMP’s management and would first check with agency officials.
“Palihog pana-og na kamo kamo dira kon ara pa kamo. Atendehon naton ni together with the BJMP,” Defensor appealed. (Please, if you are still there, go down now. We will attend to the problem together with the BJMP.)
Many reporters broke his appeal over local radio stations. Half an hour after, a reporter told Defensor the inmates had started leaving the protest area.
A few relatives of inmates gathered outside the jail said their kin complained about the blocking of food sent by families. The facility only reportedly allowed families to send cash, forcing inmates to purchase “overpriced” food from the jail “coop”.
Aside from probing the allegations, Dogelio said the BJMP would also investigate security lapses that led to the rooftop protest, which started just before 8 am.
He said the inmates took advantage of the facility’s Wednesday morning mass schedule in a chapel on the top floor of the administrative building.
Dogelio told reporters the inmates padlocked the entrance to their protest area. Mass did not push through.
The photos taken by Zaraga News Live showed inmates with a big, brown paper poster with the words, “Gutom Kami. Layas, warden.” (We’re hungry. Scram, warden.)
The BJMP official said the facility’s inmate leaders (“mga mayor”) were not at the rooftop and had a dialogue with him.
“They said they could not control their fellow inmates, in spite of their appealing for them to come down,” Dogelio told reporters in a mix of English and the local Hiligaynon language.
Overpriced commissary food
The BJMP did not receive any complaints prior to the protest, Dogelio stressed.
A jail food supervisor serves the facility to ensure cooked food three times a day, he pointed out, with a P70 daily budget per inmate for three meals.
“I don’t think that’s true,” he told reporters when asked if food is only served to inmates once a day.
Some families told reporters inmates complained that food was provided only six days in a week. Dogelio said he had not heard of that complaint.
He pointed out that food supervisors submit a menu regularly to the regional office.
He acknowledged there is a commissary in the facility that sells food to inmates.
The commissary, he added, is a joint venture by the jail administration and persons deprived of liberty, the formal term for inmates.
He said the controversial prices of the commissary food is “negotiated” between management and the leaders of the inmates.
Asked about the power outage “every morning”, Dogelio said, “there are hours we shut off power as an austerity measure”.
“That’s not new,” he added. “That’s an old practice. We can’t let them use their appliances 24/7. That would be dangerous,” as it would overburden the facility’s power capacity and cause fire. – Rappler.com