In 2018, the Philippines held the sixth-highest prison population out of 21 Asian countries. As of 2019, the Philippines’ population rested at 108.31 million people, and 215,000 of those people were incarcerated. Therefore, the Philippines has an incarceration rate of about 200 per 100,000 citizens. There are 933 prisons running in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they are mismanaged and overcrowded. Below are five important facts about the incarceration system in the Philippines.
5 Facts About the Philippines’ Incarceration System
- Severe overcrowding – Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election in 2016. He promised to end crime within six months. This promise also included the killing of 10s of thousands of criminals. Duterte’s election led to the infamous war on drugs and eventually, overcrowded prisons. Manila City Jail, the largest jail in the Philippines, is split into dorms that safely house 170 inmates. Currently, these dorms house around 500 people. Similarly, a room designated for 30 people holds about 130 in the Quezon City Jail. This severe overcrowding in prisons leads to illness and death tolls in the thousands.
- Pre-trial detainees – According to The World Prison Brief, 75.1% of incarcerations within the Philippines’ incarceration system are pre-trial. In 2018, 141,422 of 188,278 prisoners were pre-trial detainees. Unfortunately, many people are serving sentences without conviction. Pre-trial detention is found in judicial systems all over the world. In countries like the Philippines, people may serve time that outweighs their crimes. On average, prisoners in the Philippines are detained for nine months without being sentenced.
- High death tolls – About 5,200 inmates die annually at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). According to Ernesto Tamayo, the hospital medical chief, these deaths are due to overcrowding, dirty living conditions and inmate violence. At a 2019 Philippines Senate hearing, Tamayo said that there were “uncontrollable outbreaks of pulmonary tuberculosis.” In addition to overcrowding, poor living conditions and inmate violence, NBP lacks nutritional food and basic healthcare. On account of these living conditions, Tamayo reports that at least one prisoner dies at NBP each day. Thankfully, politicians and prison employees are working to reduce overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons. Human rights advocates have also called for the release of vulnerable inmates, hoping to protect them from poor living conditions.
- Vigilante justice – Duterte’s war on drugs escalated during his presidency. Jobless citizens were recruited to kill anyone suspected of dealing, buying or using drugs. This was one of few ways for some people to make money; many homeless and impoverished people joined the vigilante teams. In 2016, Duterte told the public, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.” Together, the Philippines’ police force and unidentified gunmen have killed 7,000 known drug dealers and users since Duterte’s presidency in 2016. The Philippines’ war on drugs has created the belief that extrajudicial violence and murder are necessary to fight crime. But, the Human Rights Watch has turned the narrative around on Duterte; they are publicizing information about the vigilante justice in the Philippines.
- Corruption – In August 2018, the public learned a former mayor may have been released from prison for good behavior. He was originally charged for rape and homicide in 1993. Similar stories of corruption in the Philippines’ prisons continued to emerge. In September 2018, the public learned that a woman was told her husband’s sentence would be shortened if she paid 50,000 pesos ($970). Later that year, senators stated that inmates could “live like kings” for a fee. This information led to further allegations: prison workers and officials were taking bribes to bring and distribute contraband to inmates. The contraband in question included cigarettes, cellphones and televisions. Supposedly, inmates can also pay for personal cooks and nurses. Inmates who cannot afford a better life within the prison are stuck in overcrowded and dirty rooms; these inmates have a higher rate of becoming ill and of death. Now that the corruption has been unearthed, officials are taking steps to weed it out, one prison at a time.
With increased awareness of the Philippines’ prison system, there is hope that conditions will be improved and vigilante justice will end. It will take time to fix the Philippines’ judicial and incarceration systems. However, with the help of advocacy groups like the Human Rights Watch, a change could come sooner than expected.
– Marlee Ingram