Philippines to overhaul 'inhumane', overcrowded jails

Inmates peeking from their cell inside the Quezon City Jail in Manila, on July 18, 2016.
Inmates peeking from their cell inside the Quezon City Jail in Manila, on July 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine officials said on Tuesday (Aug 9) the government would build new jails to address severe congestion made worse by President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, describing conditions as "inhumane" and "unacceptable".

AFP photographs of Quezon City Jail, where thousands of inmates take turns to sleep on an open-air basketball court and a staircase, were an "eye-opener" for authorities to hasten the construction of a new facility, according to vice mayor Joy Belmonte.

Quezon City officials Monday signed an agreement to donate land to the national government for a new prison. The facility in the northern district of Manila would replace the jail built six decades ago for 800 inmates but now houses almost 4,000.

"The photos are really unacceptable. Seeing inmates sleep on top of each other because of the lack of space, I feel it's a violation of human rights, an urgent matter that must be addressed," Belmonte told AFP.

"It's good that this is exposed before the international reading public as an eye-opener," added the vice mayor, who said she had heard reports of overcrowding before but visited the facility for the first time in July with an AFP photographer.

Human Rights Watch criticised the conditions last week, saying it was "straight out of Dante's 'Purgatory'", referring to the 13th century Italian writer's description of the realm where souls await judgment.

Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno told AFP the government would allocate funds to build new jails, with 80 percent of new detainees accused of drug-related crimes resulting from Duterte's crackdown.

Duterte, who took office on June 30, ordered a bloody war on crime that has left 889 people dead since the May elections, according to the country's largest broadcaster ABS-CBN.

Police have reported arrested more than 5,000 people for drugs offences as part of the campaign.

Sueno said his department was also planning the construction of more rehabilitation centres.

"(President Duterte) is really concerned not just about arrests but also the rehabilitation of drug addicts," the minister said.

Even before Duterte's presidency, the Philippine penal system was ranked as the third most congested in the world, according to the University of London's Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

In Quezon City, the government is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to finalise the design for a new facility that can house 6,000 inmates by 2019.

"It's a modern facility and we want it to be on par with other jails in Southeast Asia," Xavier Solda of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology told AFP.