Life inside jails is a microcosm of what is happening in our society as a whole

Whenever I look at the conditions of our prisoners, I would always go back to what Atty. Roy Valenzuela of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology discussed during a forum on restorative justice and human rights back in 2013 at the Commission on Human Rights. He was explaining the difference between criminal justice and restorative justice. He said:

“In punitive justice, we employ this toilet approach in dealing with crimes. When somebody is convicted, we throw that person into jail right away under the common notion that it is the remedy to all crimes. We quickly flush a convicted person down the toilet, thus, the term the “toilet approach” which resulted to our congested prison cells. We treat prisoners as toxic waste. But what we are not aware of is that one day these persons that we flushed down the toilet, kept miserably in congested prison cells will return to their community either as an escaped convict or a freed prisoner who will again—unless there was proper rehabilitation, unless there was an intervention made—become problems of our society.

“With restorative justice, this will help segregate the “hopeless” cases from the “hopeful” ones to decongest prisons. Only those who are recalcitrant, those who continue to hurt other people should be the ones to be put to jail. And those who are compliant should be allowed to undergo conciliation or mediation with their victims or accusers to repair the harm done and restore relationships instead of automatic incarceration.”

Toshi Kazama, an acclaimed US-based Japanese photographer who recently visited the Philippines to give a talk about his human subjects on death row, once gave a suggestion that if you want to get to know more about a foreign country you’re visiting, if you want to know its real identity, its soul, visit their prisons.

This article of Ayee Macaraig gives us a glimpse of our prisons. Even if you consider yourself not a criminal, innocent, or “safe,” still, you must pay attention. Because no matter how much money or budget the Department of Tourism would allot for an ad (last I heard it was Php 650 Million) about the Philippines so investors and tourists would take notice of us,  it still won’t hide the fact the harsh treatment of many Filipinos, particularly those persons deprived of liberty.

Pay attention. Here is the article of Ayee Macaraig that gives the true identity of our country, of the kind of government we have.


Report by Ayee Macaraig | AFP | 5 September 2017

Accused murderer Manuel Cerna has languished in a Philippine jail for 15 years without a verdict, one of countless inmates enduring interminable trials that are expected to get longer as an unrelenting drug war overwhelms the courts.

A notoriously slow and under-resourced judicial system has seen a “tidal wave” of new cases as police have conducted a nationwide crime crackdown in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to eradicate all illegal drugs from Philippine society.

The case of Cerna, 60, who almost died of tuberculosis in one of the nation’s most overcrowded jails as his hearings dragged on, is not unusual in that his time in jail while on trial is close to reaching the minimum sentence.

“I get depressed. Some others here committed suicide because their wives left them. They lost all hope of freedom,” Cerna told AFP in the Manila jail surrounded by rusting barbed wire and the stench of rotting food.

So-called “decader” inmates — because they have spent 10 years or more behind bars while on trial — are a symptom of a deeply flawed justice system that helped fuel Duterte’s rise to the presidency last year.

Duterte won the elections on a brutal law-and-order platform, promising swift justice chiefly by killing tens of thousands of criminals and a no-mercy stance on convicted criminals who he said could not be rehabilitated.

Duterte’s police have indeed shot dead thousands of people as they have scoured slums hunting drug traffickers and addicts, leading rights groups to express alarm at what they say are a wave of extrajudicial killings.

This has undoubtedly avoided many trials.

But another 96,700 people have also been arrested as part of the drug war since Duterte came to power, according to the presidential spokesman, adding to pressure on jails that were already nearly six times more crowded than they were built for.

Defendants often have to wait months between hearings, only for the session to be delayed because a judge is sick, a prosecutor fails to show up or a lawyer has another engagement. Sometimes the case gets reassigned to a new judge and the whole process starts from scratch.

In other cases, public attorneys assigned to defend poor suspects change jobs without handing over crucial documents to their replacement, or worse, files get lost, and again the defendant is back at square one.

– ‘Vicious cycle’ –

“There is a tidal wave flooding the judiciary. (But) there is no attendant increase in the number of courts, judges, prosecutors and public attorneys,” Raymund Narag, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University in the United States, told AFP.

“Extrajudicial killings are justified for Filipinos because of the failure of the criminal justice system. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

Trials nationwide last an average of six to 10 years, according to prominent human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno.

A Supreme Court task force on prison decongestion last year also said “an innocent man is jailed for at least five years before he is eventually acquitted”.

One of the key problems is simply a lack of courts, prosecutors and judges.

There are just 2,600 criminal, civilian and other types of courts for a population of 100 million, Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez told AFP.

Thirty percent of those courts have no judges, according to Marquez’s office.

This leaves the others with impossible tasks, with judges having to handle up to 5,000 cases at any one time, Marquez said.

– ‘Band-aid’ solutions –

The Supreme Court has in recent years sought to do what it can, such as by introducing computerised records and setting up a system to lock in a firm timetable for hearings. Otherwise many months pass without hearings taking place.

“(But) these initiatives are band-aid solutions. What we need are institutional solutions like adding courts and funding them, which require the support of congress and the executive (branch),” Marquez said.

The government is fast-tracking the hiring of hundreds of prosecutors and improving staff training, justice department undersecretary Antonio Kho told AFP.

Duterte has also promised to pour extra funds into the penal system next year.

But he has also repeatedly made comments that have raised questions about his administration’s intent on improving the nation’s jails and prisons.

“I prefer that they (inmates) sleep standing,” Duterte said in March when discussing the problem of packed jails.

In a lengthy assessment of the justice system, Duterte, 72, last month also claimed many prisoners wanted to stay behind bars because they became homosexuals while serving time and enjoyed regular meals.

“They don’t want to go out. Because the food is free and their lover, they are in love, they want to stay there,” Duterte said, as he insisted people could not be rehabilitated in the Philippines’ jails.

“They are already monsters.”

However Cerna, the alleged murderer, insists he is innocent and mourns the wasted years trapped behind bars away from his family.

“When my mother died, I wanted to break down. I wanted to shout but all I could do was cry,” said Cerna, whose real name cannot be disclosed while his case is pending, recalling how he was desperate to help her.

“I wasn’t able to serve her in her dying years.”

Source: Yahoo News

Inmates during a morning headcount inside Quezon City Jail in Manila. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

The Philippines’ notoriously slow and under-resourced judicial system has seen a ‘tidal wave’ of new cases due to a nationwide war on drugs. (AFP Photo/ Noel Celis)

Some inmates have spent ten or more years behind bars while on trial—a symptom of deeply flawed justice system. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to eradicate all illegal drugs from Philippine society has resulted in 96,700 people being arrested since he came to power. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

Conditions inside the massively overcrowded jails are squalid and cramped. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)

Inmates eat their lunch inside the Quezon City Jail in Manila. (AFP Photo/Noel Celis)



While cleaning, I found this. Yup, I like Madonna.


18 Feb 2017



Ordinary bus


From EDSA Mandaluyong to Quezon City | 17 June 2017 | 6:42 PM

Morning walk


UP Commonwealth Ave. | 29 August 2017 | 8:46 AM

Manila traffic, Philippines


Commonwealth Ave. | 17 July 2017 | 8:01 PM


“The trick to being truly creative, I’ve maintained, is to be completely unselfconscious. To resist the urge to self-censor. To not-give-a-shit what anybody thinks. That’s why children are so good at it. And why people with Volkwagens, and mortgages, Personal Equity Plans and matching Lois Vutton luggage are not.”

~A quote from Linds Redding’s blog. Linds Redding was a New-Zealand-based art director who worked at BBDO and Saatchi and Saatchi who died last month at 52.


Half moon

Took a shot of the half moon last night but the street lights were overwhelming it looks like a small dot.

I love looking at the moon (bonus if there are stars). Reminds me always that there is more to life.

When feeling down, read this

“As we grow up, we learn that even the one person that wasn’t supposed to ever let us down, probably will. You’ll have your heart broken and you’ll break others’ hearts. You’ll fight with your best friend or maybe even fall in love with them, and you’ll cry because time is flying by. So take too many pictures, laugh too much, forgive freely, and love like you’ve never been hurt. Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances. you just have to live life to the fullest, tell someone what they mean to you and tell someone off, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone’s hand, comfort a friend, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, and smile until your face hurts. Don’t be afraid to take chances or fall in love and most of all, live in the moment because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back.”

– Author Unknown

Building… For whom?

Sabi nila, mabuti pa daw noong panahon ng rehimeng Marcos, maraming naitayong buildings at tulay para sa mga tao. Halimbawa na lang yung San Juanico Bridge na tinaguriang the longest bridge in the Philippines that connects Samar and Leyte.  Ayon sa IBON Foundation, oo nga’t may naitayong mga tulay kagaya ng San Juanico Bridge pero kung titingnan ito, wala itong naitulong na pag-unlad sa mga nakatira dito. Mahirap na probinsya pa ring maituturing ang Samar at Leyte. So sino ang nakinabang? Yung mga big companies na nag-construct ng mga naturang buildings at bridges. Ang taxpayers’ money at yung inutang na pera ay napunta lamang sa bulsa ng mga makapangyarihang businessman. “At kung umutang ka and it didn’t produce income to pay back debt, dyan nagkakaroon ng debt problem,” sabi ni IBON executive director Sonny Africa.

Umattend ako ng 2017 Midyear Birdtalk (Economic and Political Briefing) ng IBON Foundation last July 19 which was held at the UP College of Law and this graph showing the value of infrastructure projects versus the poverty incidence is the thing that bothered me the most.  Kung saan pinakamababa ang poverty incidence, which is the NCR, doon maraming infrastructure projects na ginagawa. Kung saan may pinakamataas ang poverty incidence, which is ARMM, doon halos walang proyekto of infrastructure na ipinapasok ang gobyerno through the years, under different administrations.

Dr. Raymund Narag: explaining drug trade in Bilibid and offering solutions

Before, I thought those who are in jail or prison cells deserve to rot and suffer for the crimes they have committed. After watching movies like the Green Mile and the Shawshank Redemption, I learned that these people in jail are not all evil. There was also this book I read, People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck (do not read this when you’re stressed), I learned that there is still goodness within a so-called criminal when he– despite the consequence that he is going to face--admit to his crime. Then it really became an eye-opener when I was the one who documented a forum we organized called Human Rights and Restorative Justice four years ago. What I heard from the resource speakers shocked me, up to this day I still could not forget it. I’d like to believe that we’re not any different from those people in jail. We think evil things like them. Except that we choose not to do it. That is why we really need to help those people. I remember my younger brother telling this to me when we were discussing about interpersonal relationships: “Walang tao na sa harap at talikuran ay mabait. Ang kriminal sa kasuluk-sulukan ng buto nyan mabait yan.”

This post by Dr. Raymund Narag, a former detainee, is painful to read but in the end offers hope on how our country can resolve the overcrowding of inmates, the drug trade, the exploitation and corruption happening inside jails.

Explaining drug trade in Bilibid and offering more time

By Dr. Raymund Narag

Most Filipinos are puzzled by the reported resurgence of the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre estimated that 10 to 15 percent of drug trade activity had resurfaced. He also suggested that the inmate drug dealers might have corrupted the Special Action Force personnel which had been in-charged of securing the Maximum Security Compound. Then Director General Benjamin Delos Santos clarified that drug-dealing activities had moved to the Medium Security Compound of the NBP and that the Maximum Security Compound is relatively drug-free. This implies that the SAF is performing well as the SAF is in charged with supervising the Maximum Security Compound and it is the traditional Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) personnel that supervise the Medium Security Compound.

Surprisingly, BuCor Director General Benjamin Delos Santos resigned from his post, purportedly to give Secretary Aguirre a free-hand to investigate the issue. This will now be the third appointment in the BuCor, for the first full year of the Duterte administration. This continues a trend in the BuCor leadership where two to three new directors are appointed each year. This dates back to the past 10 years, or since the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The BuCor, especially the New Bilibid Prison, is a powder keg that can erupt anytime, with direct implications to the national political landscape. Senator Leila De Lima is currently in jail, supposedly for her failure to suppress drug activities in the NBP during her term as the Justice Secretary. Her supporters now claim she is vindicated considering that drugs continue to proliferate inside the prison; it is an indication that the prison drug problem is intractable, and making her accountable hides the reality of her political persecution.

As I have said in previous articles: there were drugs in the Bilibid before De Lima became Secretary of the Department of Justice, there were drugs during her time, and there will be drugs thereafter. And as long as there is a continued neglect of the structural, organizational, and cultural conditions of the penal facilities in the country (detention centers, jails and prisons), the drug problem will continue to linger.

For starters, the structural condition refers to the overcrowding of jail and prison facilities. On the national average, overcrowding is now pegged at 500%, with some jails and prisons hovering over 2,000%. That basically means 20 inmates occupy a space good for one inmate. The drug war exacerbated this situation: in June 2016, the jail and prison population stood at 150,000; in June 2017, this now stands to close to 200,000 inmates (this number does not include inmates in the provincial jails, which is much more difficult to collect). Despite this increase in inmate population, the number of personnel stood the same, and there had been no construction of jail and prison facilities. Additionally, the operational budget of the BJMP and the BuCor had stood practically the same as the past years.

This structural deficit has led to coping mechanisms that have been tacitly utilized by the jail and prison personnel. Due to lack of personnel, inmate leaders, known as the mayores, are allowed to perform custodial, administrative, and rehabilitation functions. Due to lack of space, inmates are allowed to construct their own cubicles and living spaces. Due to lack of resources, inmates and their visitors are allowed to bring their own food, toiletries, medicines – developing a vibrant commerce inside the facilities. These coping mechanisms had been an integral part of jail and prison management, without them, jail and prison facilities will collapse. Thus, the coping mechanisms have short-term benefits—it keeps jail and prison management afloat.

However, these coping mechanisms are deemed informal and illegal. Thus, it is openly denied. However, due to necessity, jail and prison personnel tacitly employ these informal structures. Jail and prison personnel are formally admonished not to use it, but are informally advised to utilize it.

This lack of guidance on the use of these informal structures lead to abuse. Jail and prison officers can use their discretion when and whom to use the informal structures. This discretionary power can also lead to corruption and power-play inside the facilities. This becomes cultural and inmates and personnel must be acculturated to the emergent informal structures inside the facilities.

The interplay of the structural, organizational, and cultural dynamics of a jail and prison facility can lead to different outcomes, one of which is the proliferation of drugs. For example, due to overcrowding, lack of personnel, and lack of resources, inmates are organized by cells, where an inmate cell mayores regulates inmate movement and discipline. Inmates with resources are tasked to share their resources to other inmates, and will be rewarded with privileges, like ownership of a “kubol.” The presence of inmate leadership structure also creates a hierarchy among the inmates’ ranks, which provides the basis for inmate leaders to develop a political base where they can negotiate and demand with the jail and prison staff. Coupled with the boredom inherent in any place of deprivation of liberty, corrupted inmates may capitalize on the inmate leadership structure to lure corruptible jail and prison personnel. For example, corrupted inmates, through a daring inmate leader, may lure a jail or prison guard to bring in packs of cigarettes, which is considered a premium commodity inside the facilities. Once compromised, these personnel may be asked to bring in drugs, cell phones, and other contrabands. The spiral of corruption may then lead to higher-level offices—the gaters, custodial officers, and escort officers may partake of the lucrative drug trade. The inmate leaders and compromised jail and prison personnel, would even try to keep the “peace” within the facility—they control inmate disturbances, riots and other events that may call the attention of the outside world– to keep their lucrative trade running.

While the description outlined above is simplistic, more sophisticated dynamics can develop in jails and prisons with bigger inmate populations. The Maximum Security Compound of the NBP, with its 16,000-inmate population is currently the biggest Mega-prison in the world. In the NBP, inmate gang structure provides another layer of inmate cohesiveness, making the drug trade problem almost intractable. In the NBP, gangs control 95 percent of the inmates, with three gangs having at least 2,000 inmate members.

Prison gang leaders are the gatekeepers in the drug trade. While majority of the gang leaders abhor drug use and trade within their territories, a number of corrupted inmate gang leaders have utilized their gang muscle to facilitate the drug trade. These inmate gang leaders support drug dealing activities of inmate drug traders by providing access to cell phones, providing security against custodial searches, and harassing non-paying trade partners. Coupled by the support of corrupted prison guards and gang leaders, inmate drug dealers can operate freely inside the facilities and they come to dominate drug distribution inside and outside world.

Through the years, the government has tried to disrupt drug dealing and distribution in the NBP. However, most of these interventions fail to acknowledge the intricacies of the structural, organizational, and cultural realities described above. One approach is to utilize inmate leaders to squeal the beans on the inmate drug dealers and targeting them for transfer and isolation. This approach led to the identification and transfer of 19 drug dealers to the NBI detention cell in December, 2014. This approach failed as the purported inmate leader who served as government “asset” solidified his power and concentrated drug network in his hands.

The second approach is removing the entire custodial force of the Maximum Security Compound and replacing it with the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police. Three hundred police and battle-trained SAF personnel are thus manning the gates of the Bilibid. Most anecdotal accounts suggest that this had significantly reduced the drug use and trade in the Maximum Security Compound. However, reports suggest that this resulted to the transfer of the drug activity in the Medium Security Compound. Additionally, anecdotal accounts also suggest that some personnel of the SAF may have been lured to participate in small-scale corruption, like the entry of the pack of cigarettes. This eventually led to drug trade involvement.

Both of these interventions will fail. They do not account for the lack of personnel, the problem of overcrowding, and lack of operational resources. Both of these interventions depend on the use of the mayores and other informal coping mechanisms to keep the NBP afloat— practices that eventually create the cultural environment where drug trade can flourish, as outlined above.

The problem needs a long-term, sustainable solution. Here are some suggestions that I had been offering for the longest time:

a. Create small regional prisons. The Maximum Security Compound (16,000 inmates) and the Medium Security Compound (8,000 inmates) are two of the biggest Mega Prisons in the world. Even the best prison director will have difficulty managing such a big population prison. Regional prisons with population less than 2,000 inmates must be created for each region in the Philippines. The inmate gangs, which are based on regionalism, may be dismantled once this is in place. Regional prisons will also be more accessible to inmate visitors, thus facilitating their reintegration to their communities.

b. Integrated correctional system. The BJMP jails (city, district and municipal jails), the provincial jails (managed by provincial governments), and the BuCor must be integrated into the Department of Corrections. Currently, the BJMP has the most developed personnel among the different agencies. Instead of the SAF taking over the Maximum Security Compound, the BJMP must take over the entire BuCor facilities. The BJMP should also take over all provincial jail facilities. BuCor personnel and provincial jail personnel must undergo training in the National Jail Management Training and Penology Institute, with its ladderized course offerings. This entails infusion of resources to the BJMP and the NJMPTI in order to meet the number of fully trained personnel.

c. Human Rights Based Approach to effective correctional management. Most jail and prison facilities operate through the old penology—which are dependent on the use of gangs, mayores, kubols and inmate VIP systems. Majority of the jail and prison staff are not familiar with the principles of correctional management like inmate classification, housing assignments, inmate programming, and documentation and assessment of inmate behaviors. The criminogenic needs of the inmates are not properly identified nor addressed. This results to high levels of recidivism. A Human Rights Based Approach to effective correctional management that incorporates the principles of Risk Needs and Responsivity (RNR) and observes the basic tenets of human rights, gender and cultural sensitivity needs to be introduced. If the jail and prison facilities adopt this overall framework, the corrupt and punitive culture prevalent in our penal system may be overturned. Drug trade inside the jails and prisons may be fully eradicated.