PH doing ‘outside-the-box’, ‘quick-fix’ solutions to address prison problems – Remulla
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has resorted to “outside-the-box” and “quick-fix” solutions to problems in the country’s prison system while instituting long-term reforms.
This was the assertion of Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla as he faced a panel discussion on the sidelines of the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday, February 28.
“There are a lot of challenges in our mission to reform our jail and prison system in the Philippines, and our unique situation drives us to find new ways and outside-the-box solutions to hurdle them,” he said Remulla said during the “Justice and Prison Reforms: Fixing the Process” forum, a side event of the UNHRC session.
A study commissioned by the Philippines’ Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) showed that there were almost 200,000 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the country at the end of 2021. It also showed that 70 percent of the PDLs are detention prisoners while 30 percent had been sentenced.
The JSCC study likewise indicated that the average congestion rate was 386 percent in prison facilities operated by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. In comparison, penal facilities supervised by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) under the DOJ have a 310 percent congestion rate, it added.
According to Remulla, among the quick-fix solutions implemented to tackle the problems in the country’s prison system is institutionalizing the periodic review of all PDLs’ records.
“For this purpose, we have begun the process of digitizing the single prisoner record system (‘carpeta’) by creating a dedicated office within our Department to fully implement this project. It is also meant to enable all agencies within the Department to ‘talk’ with each other,” he said.
He added that “by this review, we could compute the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) of all PDLs, and continue to do so. Consequently, we have released every month since September of 2022 about 500 PDLs, or a total of 4,124 since we assumed office last July 1, 2022.”
Remulla also mentioned the humanitarian releases of elderly PDLs and those suffering from debilitating illnesses.
He likewise said that the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) had been tapped to review the status of prisoners they represented for early release. This, he noted, resulted in the release of 51,796 detention prisoners.
Remulla further told the panel that releasing qualified inmates is among the DOJ’s efforts to decongest the BuCor-operated correctional facilities.
“For newly freed individuals, we have expanded our rehabilitation efforts to include but not limited to values formation, mental health support mechanisms, and livelihood training programs,” he added.
Moreover, Remulla informed the panel about his February 20 order which requires prosecutors to recommend bails that are at least 50 percent lower than the 2018 bail bond guide or P10,000 – whichever is lower for indigent respondents.
“We expect further decongestion of our court dockets and substantial reduction in the overcrowding of our correctional facilities,” he said.
Another directive he made, which he presented to the forum, was regarding the new case build-up rule, which he believed “will change the landscape in the prosecution of cases.”
From the previous “probable cause” as a requirement for prosecutors to indict a person before the court, the new rule will be increased to “prima facie,” or that satisfies a reasonable certainty of conviction.
The new rule also tasked prosecutors to cooperate and coordinate with law enforcers to prepare cases.
“It is a paradigm shift that will mean the filing of cases where there is certainty of conviction and punishment of those charged in court.The new rule will also ensure that there will not be any frivolous cases or harassment against our innocent citizens. No longer shall our penal code be used, abused or weaponized,” Remulla noted.
Prosecutors are likewise required to assess their cases in municipal trial courts, municipal trial courts in cities, and metropolitan trial courts to determine the “reasonable certainty of conviction” of their cases based on evidence at hand and the availability of witnesses based on the latest guideline.
“Otherwise, they are to cause or move for their dismissal,” Remulla said.
“The new rule will also ensure that there will not be any frivolous cases or harassment suits against our innocent citizens. No longer shall our penal code be used, abused, or weaponized,” he added.
Remulla said they are also in the process of doing “long-lasting and game changer prison reforms” such as the establishment of state-of-the-art facilities to house PDLs convicted of heinous crimes; regionalization of prison facilities; transfer of the BuCor headquarters, the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), and Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) to other areas; and pilot implementation of the Parole and Probation Administration’s (PPA) Probation Information System.