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Philippines: the story of Jomary, locked up for 10 years for stealing a cable

Jomary spent ten years in prison in the Philippines for stealing a cable worth $300. He was released in May 2020, thanks to the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

The door opens and Jomary inhales the fresh air. His mother is waiting for him in the street. The young man has been imagining this moment for years. He thought he would be overjoyed but his happiness is tainted by a strange feeling -perhaps the fear of freedom. Aged just 25, Jomary has already spent ten years in detention. Ten years without making any decisions for himself. Ten years without thinking about his next meal. Ten years without his family. In a trembling voice, he recalls his harsh father: "He told me I was worthless.” After being beaten and abandoned with his five younger brothers and sisters, Jomary drifted. By the age of nine, he was living on the streets, smoking, drinking and struggling to survive. It was only a matter of time before the police arrested him for stealing a cable from a construction site. The item was worth $300 and would cost him the next ten years of his life. Jomary was 15 when the police took him to a vacant lot and tortured him for a week. "I thought no one would come for me, that I would die there," he recalls.

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A ten-year prison sentence for a crime worth six months

At the detention centre where he was eventually sent, the educators and teens lived in confrontation. "I was alone, I couldn't talk to anyone. I was afraid that what I said would be reported to the judge,” says Jomary. But the violence of some of the adults at the centre revolts him: "They weren’t allowed to beat the children, so they would arrange for the children to hit each other.” Jomary reported these abuses, and paid the price: "The educators ‘lost’ my files, my hearings were postponed, and I received warnings for bad behaviour. They did everything they could to keep me in prison." He stayed there nine-and-a-half years longer than the maximum sentence allowed for his offence, which was six months. Those nine-and-a-half years could have been used to reintegrate into society and reconcile with his family. Jomary's deepest wound is still that of his brutal, absent father: “For years I waited for a visit from him. He never came.”

“In the Philippines, justice is for the rich”

But Jomary is not alone. The OMCT and its partners support him against a system that crushes the weakest. "In the Philippines, justice is for the rich," he says. Thanks to the legal battle led by Cristina, an OMCT lawyer, Jomary has now been out of prison for a year. He is back with his family and trying to earn a living. His dream is to become a metal welder. But he must first finish his studies, which were disrupted by long periods of solitary confinement. With the support of his family, he has every chance. "My father and I have reconciled," he says, appeased. "He told me: ‘I was hard on you, but it was for your own good, because you are my son’”. In his father’s words, Jomary hears a declaration of love that might have changed the course of his life. "I told him he has to take better care of his other children if he doesn’t want them to end up like me,” says Jomary. One of his greatest fears is that one of his siblings will go to prison.

On the streets of Jomary’s hometown, General Trias, and in many other cities in the Philippines and around the world, children are left to fend for themselves, without families or support. They are the perfect victims for inhumane justice systems. We can't erase family trauma, but we can force the institutions to protect the most vulnerable. They are who we fight for every day.

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