The government’s plan to transfer some 160 high-risk inmates from the New Bilibid Prison to Caballo Island east of Corregidor Island at the entrance of Manila Bay will do little to decongest the country’s main detention center. But it’s an idea that could lead to the development of bigger, isolated islands in the archipelago into more humane prisons, and the decongestion of other jails.
Thousands of drug dealers and users have sought the safety of detention centers over the risk of death on the streets, pushing the capacity of jails over the limit. Newspaper photos of inmates in a detention center sleeping on the floor side by side have caught the attention of Human Rights Watch.
Phelim Kine, deputy director for the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, was appalled by the photos that showed the horrific overcrowding in jails and detention centers. Kine described it as “an image straight out of Dante’s ‘Purgatory,’ hundreds of half-naked men sprawled on the pavement in the sweltering heat, desperately trying to sleep amid the cramped chaos.”
The pictures reflect the worsening humanitarian crisis inside local jails, which are already plagued by serious sanitation and health problems, including widespread tuberculosis. Human Rights Watch has learned that many local jails fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards by not providing adequate amounts of food and sanitation.
The Manila City Jail, for instance, has more than three times the amount of prisoners for which it was designed. Around 3,700 prisoners are detained in the jail compared with its original plan to accommodate only 1,200 inmates.
President Rodrigo Duterte should make it his priority to uplift the conditions in local detention centers, along with his campaign against drug dealers and users. Jails and detention centers are not the ideal homes for those who violated the laws, committed crimes and are awaiting court trials. They, however, deserve more humane treatment and compassion from the government.