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“Go home and tell them what you did today and why.”

“a) grotesque; b) merciless; c) heartless; d) callous; e) inhuman; f) shocking; g) unbelievable; h) overkill; i) all of the above & more.

Go home to your spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors and classmates and tell them what you did today and why. Then pause and tell yourself in silence if they deserve to be proud of you.”Atty. Edre U. Olalia, President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Journalists, lawyers slam Nasino’s ‘cruel and barbaric’ BJMP guards

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the personnel of the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology (BJMP) who tried to prevent political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino from being interviewed by reporters at her infant daughter’s wake in Manila yesterday, October 15.

Four BJMP escorts surrounded Nasino to block her from cameras and later attempted to drag her back to jail in violation of the four-hour furlough granted by the court.

The incident caused a commotion inside the funeral parlor as Nasino’s lawyers prevented the jail guards from snatching the grieving mother.

In a statement, the NUJP said Nasino’s visit to her deceased daughter was clearly a matter of public interest as it is part of an issue that touches on some very basic human rights, “particularly that of a mother deprived of the opportunity to nurture her child and, failing that, to comfort her and bid her goodbye in her final moments.”

“The BJMP personnel who trampled on the rights of both the news personnel covering the event and of Ms. Nasino, whose incarceration does not deprive her of the right to free expression were either ignorant of media’s role in a democracy or did not care, not surprising given how the head of state himself has shown nothing but contempt for a free and critical press,” the NUJP said.

The group demanded an immediate and transparent investigation into the incident and for sanctions to be leveled against both the unit commander and the personnel who obeyed what the NUJP described was an illegal order.

Bulatlat’s video of the commotion caused by BJMP guard at Baby River Nasino’s wake.

Cruelty and Barbarity Without Compare

Nasino’s lawyers said the BJMP also lied when they said before Judge Paulino Gallegos of RTC Manila Branch 47 that they lacked the personnel who can guard Nasino overnight and thus asked that her furlough be shortened from three days to six hours.

The lawyers said about 47 jail and police officers guarded Nasino from the Manila City Jail to the funeral parlor and were armed with high powered firearms in what they said was deceptive overkill.

They also complained that the guards flanked Nasino wherever she went and refused to let her speak with her family and counsel or view her baby in private.

The lawyers, members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the guards came looking like they were poised for battle even as they knew Nasino would not risk the chance to bury her child by attempting an escape.

“With their sheer number, the guards were the ones who overcrowded the wake. They also did not observe social distancing,” they said.

“It is clear that Ina’s escorts came to scoff at her grief by destroying the solemnity of the funeral with tension, fear, and intimidation. They arrested her on fake charges and caused the early separation of her baby in jail. What is another act of cruelty and injustice?” they said.

Atty. Ma Sol Taule, one of Nasino’s lawyers, said they know the women jail guards who attempted to snatch Nasino away were just following orders but expressed sadness the BJMP personnel did not understand the grief of a fellow woman who has lost a child.

“Hindi kami pumayag. Masyado ng maraming pasakit ang dinanas ni Reina Mae at ng kanyang anak sa kamay ng gubyernong ito,” she said. (We did not let it happen. Reina Mae and her child have suffered too much pain at the hands of this government.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups condemn furlough reduction for grieving mother

By Joseph Cuevas

The Regional Trial Court in Manila reduces the supposed three-day furlough for political prisoner and activist Reina Mae Nasino after jail authorities opposed her visit to the wake and burial of her three-month old child Baby River who died last Friday due to pneumonia.

In a hearing today, Judge Paulino Quitoras Gallegos of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 changed his original decision and drastically reduced Nasino’s furlough to just 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon of October 14 for the wake and October 16 from 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon at the Manila North cemetery for the burial.

Yesterday, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) sent a letter to the court requesting the visitation to be lessened citing lack of personnel for security.

The letter was signed by Jail Chief Inspector Maria Ignacia Monteron, Acting Office-in-Charge of Manila City Jail (MCJ) Female Dormitory of the BJMP.

Counsels of Nasino from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and her mother filed a Very Urgent Motion for Furlough last Monday, October 12, which was granted Tuesday.

In a text message forwarded to Kodao after the hearing, NUPL’s Atty. Katherine Panguban said, “Hanggang sa mga araw ng pagluluksa ng isang inang nawalan ng sanggol dahil sa mga gawa-gawang kaso laban sa kanya, hanggang sa mga huling oras na pwede pang masilayan ni Reina si River, nakuha pang makipagtawaran ng BJMP-MCJ”. (Up to these days when a mourning mother who lost her baby due to trumped-up charges, up to these last hours when Reina could see River, the BJMP-MCJ still petitioned to reduce the furlough.)

Political prisoners support group Kapatid decried the move by jail authorities who cited lack of personnel to guard Nasino and the added precautions their personnel had to implement in accordance with anti-coronavirus protocolas in opposing the original furlough.

‘Unjust, heartless’

Nasino first asked the court to be allowed to take care of her child but prison officials opposed her petition, citing lack of proper facilities inside the Manila City Jail

The court, through Branch 20’s Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali, sided with the BJMP and denied the 23-year-old political prisoner’s motion.

Kapatid decried the decision, citing rich inmates and politicians were granted privileges in jails for far less compelling reasons.

“Being an activist does not make Reina Mae less of a human being. It does not even negate her rights as a person. She deserves to stay at her child’s side until burial. Equity and compassion, simple humanity, should be standard to all,” Kapatid demanded.

In a statement, human rights group Karapatan called the new decision on Nasino’s furlough a form of torture and another enraging and callous act.

“Wala na ba talagang katapusan ang pagpapahirap, tortyur at inhustisya ng gobyernong ito sa isang ina na naghihinagpis?” the group asked. (Is there no end to the government’s torture and injustice on this grieving mother?)

Karapatan added that jail authorities use logistical issues, funding and resources as alibis to deliberately prolong the agony of many imprisoned political prisoners like Nasino.

Nasino and two other companions were arrested during a midnight raid of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) office in Tondo, Manila in November 2019 and were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Nasino was not named in the search warrant presented by the Manila police.

Bayan also said the guns and explosives were planted, as is the usual practice of the Philippine National Police in its operations against activists and offices of progressive and church organizations. #

Family asks chief justice to free political detainee and other elderly and sickly prisoners

The family of a political detainee has asked Supreme Court Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta for his immediate release along with other sickly, elderly and pregnant prisoners of conscience.

In a letter to Peralta Monday, April 13, the family of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre asked the country’s chief magistrate for his temporary release amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis.

“My father’s freedom will remove him from otherwise high vulnerability to the coronavirus while in prison, and enable us, his family, to better care for him as he struggles through illnesses,” Casambre’s daughter Xandra Biseño said.

Casambre, supposedly immune from arrest as a consultant to the peace talks between the government and the NDFP, was arrested along with his wife Cora on December 7, 2018. Cora was later freed due to a lack of evidence.

Biseño said their family fears for the life and safety of Casambre who is of advanced age and suffering from type 2 diabetes and a heart condition. 

Casambre has an enlarged ventricle, mitral valve prolapse, and aortic valve prolapse with mild regurgitation, his daughter said.

Biseño’s letter, also sent in behalf of by her mother Cora, Casambre’s sister Sr. Mary Aida Casambre, RGS, and other family members and friends, is in support of the petition filed by Kapatid on April 8 seeking the Supreme Court’s “compassionate intervention” and “exercise of equity jurisdiction” for the release of select prisoners, including political detainees.

 The lead petitioners are 22 political prisoners who are mostly elderly and sick, including six women, one of whom has leprosy while another is five-months pregnant.

Biseño said that despite assurances by penal authorities that the country’s jails are “100% safe” during the Covid-19 crisis, they are highly concerned that Casambre and others like him are put at an even greater risk. 

“There is a general lack of jail space and facilities for social distancing, proper nutrition to put up resistance against the virus, prompt testing of prisoners and jail employees with Covid symptoms to enable ample isolation, quarantine, and treatment for the infected and the safety of those who are not,” Biseño’s letter reads.

Prison authorities have admitted that Philippine jails are over 500% congested, and tally about 4-5,000 deaths every year notably at a higher rate among the detained elderly. 

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology earlier announced the death of an inmate on March 25 at a Quezon City jail prison.

Prisoners’ families deliver nutritious food and supplements regularly to the detainees because prison rations are insufficient to keep the detainees nutritionally fed, Biseño said.

Water supply is irregular due to rationing by the concessionaires, she added. 

“The helplessness and anxiety that the fatal microbe could hit our imprisoned relatives – who have no reason to be in prison at all because they are but falsely charged – is becoming unspeakable, Biseño wrote. 

Her letter said the release of elderly, sickly and pregnant prisoners will also aid government’s objective to arrest the spread of the coronavirus by decongesting prisons and removing highly vulnerable individuals detainees as had been done in Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Germany, Italy, United States of America and Morocco. 

Biseño’s letter was also sent to Senate President Vicente Sotto, Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights Chair Richard Gordon, House of Representatives Committee on Justice Chair Vicente Veloso, and Makati District 2 Representative Luis Campos.

The Department of Social Work and Development, Department of Justice and the BJMP said they support the decongestion of prisons by giving elderly and vulnerable inmates temporary freedom. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine Jails are a Covid-19 Time Bomb

The Philippines has the most crowded correctional system in the world. It’s only a matter of time before the virus enters and spreads in prison and jail facilities. Humanitarian groups have called for the early release of elderly and sickly and nonviolent, low-risk detainees.

BY AIE BALAGTAS SEE/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

ON APRIL 1, the police brought to a jampacked detention center at the Quezon City Police District headquarters 21 residents of a poor community who had been arrested for breaking quarantine rules. 

 When they got there, the detainees were not tested for the coronavirus nor were they isolated from other inmates. “The police just took their body temperature using a thermal scanner and that was it,” said lawyer Kristina Conti, who represented them.

Since none of them showed Covid-19 symptoms, said Conti, they were locked up without being required to undergo a 14-day quarantine. 

Because the detention cells were already full, the 16 men were kept outside a 5×5 meter cell for male detainees that already housed nearly a dozen other inmates. Later they were moved to another cell, all of them crammed in a 3×4-meter space. The women were placed with other female detainees in a separate cell. 

 “Social distancing, of course, is impossible,” Conti said. At night, the inmates slept side-by-side on the same cold floor. They didn’t have easy access to toilets, making frequent handwashing difficult. The jail did not provide rubbing alcohol, masks or soap, although some donors sent some supplies. 

 Police lockups like those at the Quezon City police headquarters in Diliman are temporary holding areas for suspects undergoing investigation or awaiting court orders that would send them to more permanent detention centers. 

On March 14, just before the Metro Manila lockdown, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) suspended the transfer of these suspects to the 467 district, city and municipal jails under its jurisdiction. 

 This means that suspected offenders will have to be kept indefinitely in small lockups in police precincts that do not have clinics nor doctors and nurses on staff. Most of these also do not have enough toilets or showers to service the influx of new inmates.

 As of last week, more than 20,000 had been arrested for quarantine and curfew violations. Most have been released and will face charges once the health crisis is over. Some 4,000 are currently being detained in police lockups and are awaiting transfer to city jails.

 “If the police continue to arrest, their detainee population will continue to grow and will make their situation worse,” said Raymund Narag, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University and an expert in Philippine jails. “Our police detention centers are extremely congested and do not have the capacity to segregate, much more isolate, infected individuals.”

LOCKED UP. Detainees at the Manila Police District Station 5.
File photograph: Rick Rocamora. This image appeared in Rocamora’s 2018 photobook Human Wrongs, a six-year project that documented life inside Philippine detention centers.

Health risks of overcrowded jails

Narag was once a prisoner himself, having spent six years at the Quezon City Jail before he was found innocent of involvement in a fraternity rumble that resulted in the death of one student.

“The Philippines has the most crowded correctional system in the world,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before infections creep into the very congested jail and prison facilities.” 

Like other prison advocates around the world, Narag is calling for the release of nonviolent, low-risk, and bailable pretrial detainees as well as vulnerable, elderly, and sickly convicts. 

Both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Human Rights Watch have also asked the government to release nonviolent prisoners, saying overpopulated prisons, jails and lock-up cells make them fertile grounds for spreading infectious diseases. 

“The early release of the most vulnerable detainees (elderly, sick) and those with minor offenses is an option that could be taken by the Philippine government,” said ICRC spokesperson Allison Lopez.

OVERCROWDED. Detainees sleep cheek by jowl at the Quezon City detention center. File photograph: Rick Rocamora. This image appeared in Rocamora’s 2018 photobook Human Wrongs, a six-year project that documented life inside Philippine detention centers.

According to the BJMP, jails across the country are running at 500% overcapacity. In March this year, these jails had 134,748 detainees nationwide, a 40% increase since 2015, largely because of the surge of detainees from the government’s anti-drug campaign.

Even before the pandemic, poor jail conditions have already resulted in the death of 300 to 800 inmates annually in recent years, according to BJMP doctor Paul Borlongan. In 2018 alone, 40 prisoners died each month in different BJMP jails in Metro Manila, said Narag.

The 21 residents who were arrested on April 1 came from Sitio San Roque in Quezon City’s Barangay Bagong Pag-asa, which has six recorded Covid-19 cases. Earlier that day, the residents had gathered near the Trinoma mall along North EDSA to demand government aid because they were hungry.

After five days in detention, all 21 were released on bail on Monday afternoon. They returned to their shanties in Sitio San Roque, where some 6,000 families live in crowded settlement of tiny, wooden and cinderblock homes.

A patchwork of detention policies

Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the deputy police chief for operations, is aware that locking up new inmates poses a threat to the safety of the prisoners and the jail staff. 

The police does not want to congest the jails any further, he said, and would prefer to release violators after 12 hours. But they also need to abide by the national government’s orders and with the desire of many local officials to get quarantine and curfew violators off the streets.

The result is a patchwork of policies depending on what local governments mandate. In the city of Manila, Eleazar said, violators were freed immediately after cases had been filed. But some cities like Navotas complained “that people will not learn their lesson if the police release them.” When the police warned that a steady stream of new inmates could wreak havoc on detention centers, Navotas used schools as a temporary lockup.

NAVOTAS CITY JAIL DETAINEES. The Philippines has the most crowded correctional system in the world. File photograph: Rick Rocamora. This image appeared in Rocamora’s 2018 photobook Human Wrongs, a six-year project that documented life inside Philippine detention centers.

Senior Supt. Baby Noel Montalvo, BJMP’s director for Health Service, said that even before the pandemic, most of those transferred to their jails were already “sick or severely ill or have symptoms of respiratory infection.” Accepting new detainees, he said, will only increase the risk of infection and compromise the safety of inmates. 

The Philippines has a three-tiered prison system. The police lockups are the lowest tier. Jails run by the BJMP are for those awaiting trial, are currently being tried or serving short jail terms. Convicted prisoners who are serving sentences of three or more years are sent to facilities run by the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor).

The police, the BJMP and Bucor are using different approaches to dealing with the pandemic. The BJMP implemented the strictest measures—no new detainees and an absolute lockdown that required jail guards to stay inside jails until the quarantine is lifted. In-person visitation was restricted, and the “paabot (pass over)” privilege, where jail staff receive packages from outsiders and deliver them to specific inmates during ordinary lockdowns, was cancelled. 

 The lone exceptions are the jails in Northern Mindanao, where the courts are issuing commitment orders that send detainees to jails. 

SICK IN PRISON. Detainees at the infirmary of Manila City Jail. File photograph: Rick Rocamora. This image appeared in Rocamora’s 2018 photobook Human Wrongs, a six-year project that documented life inside Philippine detention centers.

Less stringent at Bilibid

Bucor is less stringent in its seven facilities, including the national penitentiary known as Bilibid. Visitation rights were cancelled but the paabot system remains in place. Guards are allowed to leave prison and penal colonies after their tour of duty, which usually lasts for a week.

Unlike the BJMP, Bucor, with a current inmate population of 49,584, is still accepting new prisoners. Spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said the latest addition arrived in late March. Newly arrived detainees are evaluated for a week or two before they join other prisoners.

Bucor officials came under Senate scrutiny last year because of the alarming number of prison deaths in the national penitentiary. Henry Fabro, the chief of the Bilibid hospital, said one prisoner there dies each day. Officials blamed overpopulation for the deaths.

Chaclag insisted that social distancing was “possible” within Bucor compounds, unlike in other jails. He could not explain why that was the case, saying only that prisoners were “old enough” to decide how to implement social distancing among themselves. “Because of the information drive, they took it upon themselves to maintain their distance from one another. They no longer eat or pray together,” he said.

The risks, however, are not just that the prisoners will infect each other. Eventually, jail and prison officers will have to go home, take a rest, and recharge. When that happens, corrections staff will be exposed to the coronavirus and risk infecting the prisoners when they return. As one jail official told Narag, “One miss, we all die.”

Meanwhile, jails are preparing for the inevitable. Bilibid has prepared nine buildings for Covid-19 patients. Cities are setting aside isolation areas for infected inmates. In some, there is space for only one person; in others, isolation facilities can take 100 to 300 patients.

Money rules in Manila City Jail

The Manila City Jail has set aside an old building formerly used by tuberculosis patients as an isolation area. In addition, dorms and offices are disinfected daily, with inmates cleaning their own spaces to avoid contact with the staff. 

There are 14 dormitories in the jail, all of them so overcrowded, they could not possibly take any more. The facility was built for 1,100 inmates but currently houses 4,888.

Lawrence, a former Manila City Jail detainee who asked that his full name not be revealed, said money and power rule these dormitories. Those with the means pay dorm leaders so they can sleep in private cubicles called kubols. Lawrence said a kubol measures around 2×2 meters. They are “not big but provide enough space so you can stretch your arms and feet.”

Others less fortunate take turns sleeping or sleep in crouched positions, spilling out into hallways and corridors because of the lack of space. 

KUBOL. Private cubicles for rent in Manila City Jail. File photograph: Rick Rocamora. This image appeared in Rocamora’s 2018 photobook Human Wrongs, a six-year project that documented life inside Philippine detention centers.

Lawrence stayed in Dormitory 3 for two years. At night, he recalled, one has “to tread carefully” to avoid stepping on bodies that were like landmines on the floor. “If you accidentally step on an inmate, you will get whipped several times,” he said. The number of lashes depends on the power and position wielded by the offended party.

 Access to bathrooms is another luxury. “High-ranking detainees” like Lawrence can use bathrooms with showers and properly functioning toilets. Poor inmates use common toilets that even visitors are not allowed to use “because the stench gets so bad, it’s really embarrassing.” Common bathrooms have no doors, he said. They have tubs called “swimming pools” which inmates fill with water. Toilets are holes directly connected to drainage canals.

 In 2016, when Lawrence was first jailed, there were only 127 detainees in Dormitory 3. He left behind 605 dorm occupants in 2018, most of them facing drug charges. Despite the lockdown, arrests of drug suspects continue.

 For all the worries about the prisoners’ health, Interior Government Secretary Eduardo Año, who supervises BJMP, said jails are “the safest place right now.” Prisoners, he said, risk exposure to the virus if they were released. 

 “All prison detention cells are COVID-free,” he said in a statement. 

 Up to now, however, no jail guards or inmates in any of the Philippine jails, prisons and police detention centers, have been tested for Covid-19. #

= = = =

Aie Balagtas See is a freelance journalist working on human rights issues. Follow her on Twitter (@AieBalagtasSee) or email her at aie.bsee@gmail.com for comments.

Rick Rocamora is an award-winning documentary photographer and author of four photo books; Filipino WWII Soldiers: America’s Second Class Veterans, Blood, Sweat, Hope and Quiapo; Rodallie S. Mosende Story, Human Wrongs, and Alagang Angara, a book that highlights the legislative achievements of Senator Ed Angara that continues to benefit our people and nation after his passing. His work is part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts, U.S. State Department Art in Embassies Program, and private and institutional collectors. His work is widely exhibited in national and international museums and galleries, published in print and online and aired in various broadcast news outlets. In the Philippines, his work had been exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Ben Cab Museum, Vargas Museum, and Ateneo Art Gallery. His exhibition, Bursting at the Seams: Inside Philippine Detention Centers won national and international awards for Filipinas Heritage Gallery of the Ayala Museum. Before pursuing a career in documentary photography, he worked in sales, marketing, and management positions for the US pharmaceutical industry for 18 years. — PCIJ, April 2020

No more transfer of political detainees, BJMP assures families

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has agreed to stop the reported mass transfer of political prisoners from its Bicutan Taguig facility to various jails nationwide, a human rights group said.

In a statement, families of political prisoners under the group Kapatid said it met with BJMP deputy for operations Gen. Dennis Rocamora last Thursday morning, December 12, who assured them the detainees in Bicutan would spend the Christmas season together.

“We gave our letter to Gen. Rocamora appealing to stop the mass transfer of political prisoners out of Bicutan through the seemingly legal process of court motions this Christmas season,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

Earlier, government prosecutors have asked to transfer National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants Frank Fernandez, Adelberto Silva and his companions, called the “Sta. Cruz 5”, to the Laguna Provincial Jail; Rey Casambre to Bacoor Jail; and government union organizer Oliver Rosales to Malolos City Jail.

Farmer Maximo Reduta from Southern Quezon was transferred to Gumaca District Jail last month.

“This transfer scheme would in effect result in the dissolution of the entire political prisoner’s wing in Bicutan,” Lim said.

During the dialogue, however, Rocamora reportedly assured Kapatid that the BJMP has ordered the warden of Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 to stop the transfer of all political prisoners out of Bicutan.
In addition, the BJMP will no longer file requests to the court for transfer of political prisoners and not oppose or counter the opposition filed in court by lawyers of affected political prisoners concerning existing motions for their transfer, Kapatid reported.
Also, the BJMP will no longer act on the old list of a previous warden for the transfer of some political prisoners, the group added.

Kapatid said that no political prisoner in Bicutan wants to be transferred because of concerns for their personal security.
“We hope and pray that the BJMP will fulfill its assurances to Kapatid,” Lim said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Cartoon: Elite police force as penitentiary guards

IN ITS effort to rid the National Penitentiary at Bilibid, Muntinlupa City of suspected corrupt Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) personnel, the Rodrigo Duterte government fielded the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force as jail guards.

In an unprecedented move, the elite police unit that was formed and trained as an anti-insurgency force is now tasked to rid the country’s premiere jail of dangerous drugs laboratories and operations.

There have been numerous reports that suspected drug lords are operating drug rings from their jail cells that have become luxurious apartments through the collusion of  suspected corrupt BJMP personnel.

SAF Bilibid