ART BY JOSEPH MENDOZA
In quarantine, many of us are dying from boredom, our lives practically over due to a lack of social activities and events to attend. However, in the Philippines, prisoners are also dying- literally.
On May 5, 2020, the Philippine Supreme Court System released approximately 10,000 inmates from populated prison institutions. When COVID-19 first spread to the country, the Philippine government declared that jails were the safest places to be. Despite this, social distancing is not plausible in the tiny cells and inmates have no choice but to sleep in shifts. Moreover, as coronavirus cases increased in jails, Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta took action and granted bail for many prisoners in efforts to combat the spread of the deadly disease.
Nevertheless, the coronavirus has highlighted a significant problem of the Philippines justice system: the overcrowded jails, filled to the brim with individuals waiting for their trials. Since November, the seven national prisons in the Philippines have accommodated more than 215,000 inmates, in penitentiaries only structured for 40,000 people.
What’s causing the abundance of inmates is a crackdown on illegal substances by President Rodrigo Duterte, which appears to be a positive action. However, an unintended consequence from this strict drug mandate is an unusually high number of inmates, with individuals waiting years before even going to trial.
Essentially, the purpose of harboring inmates at a prison is to allow them a period of growth and reflection upon their past actions, before they enter back into the world as productive members of society. Nevertheless, Duterte’s actions undermine the sole purpose of these institutions by simply focusing on putting more and more people in jail. And, instead of giving the accused a fair trial to gauge whether they are truly guilty, people are wasting precious years of their life, spent in an institution where their loved ones, comfort and jobs are taken away. Although waiting periods are to be expected in countries with large populations, they should not extend to many months or years.
Furthermore, the release of prisoners will bring more complications amid this pandemic. Many of the prisoners have been tested positive for coronavirus prior to their release, which means that they will likely spread the sickness to the people they interact with upon detainment. Adding on, if the thousands of released inmates are responsible and stay in hospitals, this will guarantee a crowding of health care centers, which are compelling factors to consider.
Contrastingly, there have been many movements internationally to improve this problem in the Philippines. Amnesty International, a campaign to end human injustices, publicized the government’s wrongdoings and announced that the Philippines need to improve the lack of sanitation in the jails. The group went further to claim that, according to international law, “imprisonment pending trial should be the exception, not the norm.”
Nonetheless, this is a situation that cannot be solved simply. The overcrowding of jails has already begun to stir larger problems, such as the rapid spreading of coronavirus in the prisons; so, keeping the prisoners in or out of jail has its respective positives and detriments. Likewise, it should be recognized that the Phillipine government did somewhat address this issue, but more measures can be provided to keep coronavirus from spreading.
To improve on this issue, it is imperative for the Philippine government to pass laws in the interest of the people, especially in this crucial time.