Valentine's day

Hearts ignite as love visits return to South Cotabato jail

Rommel Rebollido

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Hearts ignite as love visits return to South Cotabato jail

Prison authorities and inmates during an inspection in a South Cotabato prison facility in August 2021.

South Cotabato Rehabilitation and Detention Center

With the announcement, the inmates' hearts are burning with love, but prison authorities advise them to tell their spouses to leave lighters at home

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Cupid’s finally allowed back in the South Cotabato provincial jail as conjugal visits resumed ahead of Valentine’s Day.

But the jailers said they would require proof of marriage and COVID-19 vaccination, and reminded couples to bring their own bed sheets because they would not be playing love games with their dirty laundry.

It will be a happy Valentine’s Day – or month – for many inmates at the provincial jail as prison authorities announced on Friday, January 27, the return of conjugal visits by the legal spouses of prisoners. 

The visits were stopped in 2020 as part of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates. 

With the announcement, the inmates’ hearts are burning with love, but prison authorities advised them to tell their spouses to leave lighters at home.

“Sadya gid ang Valentine’s! (It’s going to be a merry Valentine’s Day!)” an Ilonggo-speaking inmate, in a festive mood, exclaimed in joy as soon as he learned that the love visits have been allowed again in the prison facility. 

NO SHEETS. A clean room and bed prepared for conjugal visits at the provincial government-run South Cotabato jail. – South Cotabato Detention and Rehabilitation Center photo

But the bad news is that common-law partners may have to wait, and the conjugal visits are definitely not for the unvaccinated. 

Lory Celeste, the warden of the South Cotabato Rehabilitation and Detention Center (SCRDC), said conjugal visitations have been allowed again, but were limited only to legal spouses. 

“We are still studying what to require of unmarried couples,” Celeste said. 

To use the South Cotabato jail’s eight “special rooms” – where inmates and their visiting spouses can just talk or spend intimate time together in private – couples would have to make reservations ahead of time.

Celeste said couples will be asked to show their marriage contracts, valid identification cards, vaccination cards, and health declaration papers. 

This means the unvaccinated won’t be entitled to the love visits.

The conjugal visits will only be allowed on Saturdays and Sundays. 

“We ask couples to spend only two hours in the rooms because there are many other inmates waiting in line, and eager to get in,” Celeste said.

The rooms were cleaned and prepared for the love visits, Celeste said.

Prison authorities said the inmates and their spouses, however, would need to bring their own bed sheets or mattresses because none of the prison staff would do the couples’ dirty laundry. 

The prison facility currently has a population of around 1,200, down from the 1,500 inmates in 2022.

Celeste said the jail population was reduced after authorities freed about 300 inmates who availed of the jail decongestion program based on Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) Circular No. 201 of 2022.

The circular allows the release of inmates who have already served the time needed relative to the pending charges they are facing. 

The program was resorted to because of the congestion being faced by most prison facilities across the country. 

Inmates who may avail of it are those facing charges with a possible jail sentences not exceeding four years. –

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