‘Tao po kami’ | Kin decry the ‘inhumane treatment’ of Bilibid inmates

Relatives of prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison remind the authorities, “Tao po kami” (We are humans) during a press conference, Oct. 25 at the Commission on Human Rights.

“The NBP is a prison facility, not a cemetery.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Dolly Pangilinan, 61, is worried sick of her husband Arthur, an inmate at the New Bilibid Prisons. Since the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has implemented the lockdown on Oct. 9, Dolly and the other relatives could not visit their loved ones. Even Arthur’s maintenance medicines for hypertension were refused by the jail guards.

On Oct. 9, the new BuCor administration started its clearing operations supposedly to clean out jail cells from all forms of contraband. Some 1,500 operatives from different government agencies demolished what they called as kubol or illegal structures where transactions involving narcotics and other illegal activities allegedly take place.

That day, Dolly received text messages from other relatives that the electricity was cut off; water supply was disrupted. Even the food ration for the inmates was suspended for the day. As of Oct. 15, the ongoing clearing operations have reportedly left seven inmates dead due to lack of medical attention. Dolly said some inmates died of dehydration.

“Hindi ba tao ang mga nasa loob? Mga hayop ba sila?” (Are the inmates not human beings? Are they animals?) Dolly lamented during a press conference launched by Kapatid (Families and Friends of Political Prisoners), Oct. 25 at the Commission on Human Rights.

Dolly said they are not against the campaign against illegal drugs but inmates should still be accorded their basic rights.

Fides Lim, Kapatid spokesperson, said all prisoners at the NBP should be accorded minimum humane treatment in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These include prisoners’ access to relatives, lawyers, doctors, spiritual advisers, service providers and livable conditions with food, free access to water, sleeping quarters, as well as adequate medical care. She warned that the situation of the inmates could lead to a humanitarian crisis if jail authorities continue the lockdown.

Lim reminded BuCor, “The NBP is a prison facility, not a cemetery.”

Dr. Geneve Rivera-Reyes of the Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR) said the lockdown only worsened the already miserable conditions of NBP inmates. She is particularly worried about the elderly, such as 80-year-old Gerardo dela Peña and 74-year-old Jesus Alegre who are now denied access to their maintenance medicines.

Kapatid said it received reports that the building where political prisoners are detained, will be demolished too. “But for what reason when this building was specially constructed for political prisoners as a category distinct from common criminals?” Lim asked.

Moro inmates, meanwhile, are discriminated against.

Andang Maang, wife of a Moro political prisoner, recounted her visit on Oct. 4. While Moro detainees were having their noontime prayer, jail guards went inside the mosque and instructed them to go out. Their Qur’an books were torn to pieces and stepped on.

Fees, fees, fees

Inmates at the NBP are also made to pay for almost everything.

Maang said her husband’s kubol, which they paid for P6,000, was among those destroyed.

For a week, Maang said her husband needs at least P500 to buy food as the ration inside the jail “is only fit for a dog.” A gallon of mineral water is sold at P150 while a can of sardines is pegged at P100. Whenever she visits, she could only bring in five kilograms of rice, the limit set by jail authorities.

Another relative, Susan Versoza, told Bulatlat that her husband Francis and other political prisoners at the NBP are made to shoulder the electricity cost inside their prison cells.

Lim retorted, “The majority of inmates who are poor are made to suffer while the VIP inmates continue to enjoy privileges.”

Even visitors suffer

Relatives, too, suffer from inhumane treatment.

Julieta Caloza, 62, broke down in tears as she recalled her first visit to the NBP. Not only she was forced to undress from head to toe, the jail guards also inspected her private parts.

“I was crying. It’s as if they’re stripping me of my dignity,” Caloza told Bulatlat in Filipino. “My husband is a political prisoner, not a drug offender.”

Caloza and the other relatives have to queue for hours every visit. Often, travel time is much longer than the time spent with their loved ones. Caloza, for example, travels for five hours from San Jose, Nueva Ecija to NBP in Muntinlupa City. She would line up for two hours and would only be able to talk to Leopoldo, peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, for only 15 to 30 minutes.

Support

Religious groups stood behind Kapatid’s demands.

Gerardo Bernabe, national coordinator of CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, reminded the authorities that “inmates are humans, too.” He lamented that the deprivation of inmates’ basic rights continues this week, dubbed as the Prison Awareness Week.

Rev. Irma Balaba of Promotion of Church People’s Response and Iglesia Filipina Independiente Supreme Bishop Rhee Timbang also expressed their solidarity and called on the authorities to allow visits from doctors, religious, lawyers and human rights groups.

Meanwhile, Gian Tauro of the CHR visitorial services, said the agency is conducting its own investigation.

Lim said they will hold a dialogue with BuCor director general Gerald Bantag soon to press the agency to act on their demands. ()

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