With 70% of detention centres overcrowded, the Philippines is one of the countries in the world hardest hit by prison overpopulation. The Marcos Jr administration has promised to tackle the problem and recently organised a two-day summit on decongesting prisons, where representatives from the executive, judiciary, legislature, and civil society discussed ways to reduce the number of severely overcrowded prisons.
While welcoming the explicit acknowledgment that detention conditions in the country are “not human”, we remain concerned about the decision to build new “super maximum-security facilities” in violation of the rights of detainees.
In July 2022, the government enacted the controversial “Separate Facility for Heinous Crimes Act” providing that such separate facilities should be built “away from the general population and other detainees and preferably within a military establishment or on an island separate from the mainland.” Such regulations, drafted without proper consultation with relevant stakeholders, contrast with detainees' basic rights. Visits by family and lawyers are made illusionary in far away and isolated locations. So is independent monitoring that is particularly important in “super-maximum prisons”, where conditions are typically harsh with isolation, solitary confinement, and limited access to the outside world. The UN Committee against Torture has raised concerns about detention regimes in super-maximum facilities in other countries (for example, South Africa and the US).
The government is considering public-private partnerships to construct facilities, which are undoubtedly very costly. The UN has criticized the privatization of prisons because profit motives often override human rights considerations which leads to human rights violations being committed against detainees with impunity.
Another worry is the reference made to children as potential inmates of these high-security prisons in the bill. Such a scenario would be contrary to the 2006 Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, which provides that youth convicted of heinous crimes benefit from a suspended sentence and are not imprisoned.
The new law also includes persons convicted of human trafficking, infanticide, and parricide. Many of these convicts suffer from complex gender-related trauma and are victims of sexual violence. Detaining them in isolated areas, where specialised psychological and medical care is not always available and where prisoners cannot see their families, could hinder their rehabilitation.
We call on the Philippines government to consider a response to prison overcrowding by exploring alternatives to detention and tackling prolonged pre-trial detention periods rather than building new mega facilities.
- Children's Legal Rights and Development Center, Inc. (CLRDC)
- Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
- Medical Action Group (MAG)
- Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
- Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
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