Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the Philippine government is seriously addressing the problem of jail congestion with what he described as “outside-the-box-solutions” to congestion.
Remulla made the statement during a panel discussion on “Justice and Prison Reforms: Fixing the Process” as a side event of the 52nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland last Tuesday, Feb. 28.
The panel discussion was organized by the Philippines, Norway, and Thailand and other international organizations.
“Outside-of-the-box solution” to a problem is described as “exploration of ideas that are creative and unusual, and are not limited or controlled by rules or tradition,” Remulla explained.
“There are a lot challenges in our mission to reform our jail and prison system in the Philippines, and our unique situation drives us to find new ways and outside-the-box solutions to hurdle them,” Remulla said.
The Justice Secretary pointed out that “we are not deterred by these challenges.”
“Instead, they inspire us to do more, much more, for the benefit of our children and the future Filipinos,” he said.
He cited a study commissioned by the Philippines’ Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) showing that at the end of 2021, “there was a total of almost 200,000 PDLs (persons deprived of liberty in the country).”
The Supreme Court, the DOJ, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) consisted JSCC.
The study also showed that 70 percent of facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) have been overcrowded with an average congestion rate of 386 percent, while the Bureau of
Corrections’ (BuCor) facilities with about 50,000 PDLs as of Jan. 31, 2023 have a congestion rate of 310 percent, he said.
“As an immediate fix, we have institutionalized the periodic review of prison records of all PDLs. For this purpose, we have begun the process of digitizing the single prisoner record system (‘carpeta’) by
creating a dedicated office within our Department to fully implement this project. It is also meant to enable all agencies within the Department to ‘talk’ with each other,” Remulla said.
“By this review, we were able to compute the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) of all PDLs, and continue to do so. As a consequence, we have released on a monthly basis since September of 2022 about 500 PDLs, or a total of 4,124 since we assumed office last 1 July 2022,” he also said.
Remulla said he also tapped the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to review the status of persons they represent for the purpose of early release and this resulted in the release of 51,796 detention prisoners.
He said he issued circulars that ordered prosecutors to only file cases in first level courts that have a “reasonable certainty of conviction” and to lower the recommended bail for poor defendants to
at least 50 percent or only P10,000, whichever is lower.
“We are about to release the new case build up rule that will change the landscape in the prosecution of cases. Soon, the threshold for indictment will be increased from probable cause to prima facie, or that satisfies a reasonable certainty of conviction,” he added.
According to him, the prosecutors of the Department of Justice are now proactively participating in, cooperating and coordinating with law enforcers in building-up of cases.
“It is a paradigm shift that that will mean the filing of cases where there is a certainty of conviction and punishment of those charged in court,” he noted.
“Apart from this consequence, the new rule will also ensure that there will not be any frivolous cases or harassment suits against our innocent citizens. No longer shall our penal code be used, abused or weaponized,” he said.
Besides, Remulla said the DOJ is implementing the establishment of state-of-the art facilities to house PDLs convicted of heinous crimes; regionalize the prison facilities; transfer the BuCor headquarters,
the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), and Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) to other areas; and the Parole and Probation Administration’s (PPA) pilot implementation of Probation Information System.
On Wednesday, Remulla was set to address the participants in the UNHRC session.
He was expected to talk on the “importance of upholding sovereignty and harnessing international solidarity in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Remulla, who leads the Philippine delegation, was also scheduled to meet with HRC President Vaclav Balek, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, Australian Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts, and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) Director General Majid Al Suwaldi.