What are prisons?


In the Philippines, prison is sometimes used interchangeably with the following terms:


Correctional facility — a place of detention, including a prison, jail or any other facility, operated by a law enforcement agency.

Jail — a correctional facility holding mainly pre-trial detainees or prisoners with short sentences. 

Prison — a correctional facility that mainly holds prisoners with long sentences. This usually also refers to national prisons or penitentiaries under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor). Jails also include provincial, district, city or municipal jails managed and supervised by the local government as well as the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). 


What are prisoners? What are detainees? What are inmates?


While the term “inmates” generally refers to incarcerated individuals in one of the various correctional facilities in the country, prisoners are inmates who are already serving prison terms. There are generally four types of prisoners:

1. Insular or national prisoner – serving a prison sentence of three years and one day of prison term  to death;

2. Provincial prisoner – serving a prison sentence of six months and one day to three years;

3. City prisoner – serving a prison sentence of one day to three years; 

4. Municipal Prisoner – serving a prison sentence of  one day to six months.


Detainees are inmates still undergoing investigation, awaiting judgment or undergoing trial, or awaiting final judgment from the courts (e.g. lower court judgment or case is under appeal).


In the Philippines, prisoners, detainees and inmates are generally called Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL).


What are some of the laws governing prisons and jails in the Philippines?


Article II Section 11 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which says: “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” Furthermore, Article III (Bill of Rights), Section 1 of the Constitution, states that “[n]o person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

These declarations of principles form the bedrock of the Philippine government’s policy on imprisonment and detention. Imprisoned or detained individuals, therefore, do not lose their rights even in incarceration.

Presidential Decree No. 28. s. 1972, an act that established seven regional prisons and converted existing national penal institutions into regular prisons and penal farms.

Republic Act No. 10707, otherwise known as An Act Amending Presidential Decree 968, Otherwise Known as ‘The Probation Law of 1976,’ As Amended. It lists the requirements needed for a convicted prisoner to be qualified for parole or probation. Probation is a privilege granted by a court to a convicted person to remain in a community instead of remaining in jail.

Republic Act No. 6975, or the Department of the Interior and Local Government Act of 1990. This act established the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Chapter V details the powers and functions as well as the organization of BJMP. It also established district, city, and municipal jails. 

Republic Act No. 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013. An act that aims to strengthen the Bureau of Corrections and providing funds for the modernization, professionalization and restructuring of BuCor, including the upgrading of its facilities, increasing the number of its personnel, upgrading the level of qualifications of their personnel and standardizing their base pay, retirement and other benefits, making them at par with those enjoyed by personnel of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

Republic Act No. 7438 or the act that defines “certain rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation as well as duties of the arresting, detaining and investigating officers, and providing penalties for violations thereof.”

Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, the law that penalizes acts by persons of authority or state agents that cause “severe pain, exhaustion, disability or dysfunction” on detainees as well as mental or psychological acts “calculated to affect or confuse the mind or undermine a person’s dignity and morale.”

Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which covers the different stages of children at risk and children in conflict with the law, from prevention to rehabilitation, to integration. It places the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15 years. It provides for child-appropriate proceedings, including programs and services for prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration of children at risk and in conflict with the law.

Presidential Decree No. 603, or the Philippine Child and Youth Welfare Code. This decree requires that arrested minors, except for special circumstances, be committed to the care of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or a juvenile center for the duration of his or her arrest or until they reach the age of 18.


What are the rights of PDLs under the law?

PDLs are citizens whose exercise of certain rights, such as the right to travel and right to privacy among others, have been curtailed by the State, but are still entitled to the same basic rights enjoyed by the rest of the citizenry in a free society.


The Asian Human Rights Commission drafted this list of prisoners' rights:


1. Prisoners have the right to be treated in a humane manner.

2. Prisoners have the right to a fair trial with adequate and free legal assistance.

3. Persons under any form of detention or imprisonment have the right to be protected from cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment and punishment, including sexual violence and other forms of torture.

4. Persons have the right to be kept in official government civilian prisons and to be protected from being imprisoned in unofficial places of detention or in military custody.

5. All persons have the right to appear in public before a legally constituted court within a short time after their arrest.

6. Prisoners have the right to fair and humane treatment which enables the maintenance of self-respect.

7. Prisoners have the right to a prison program which enhances their social and intellectual abilities.

8. Prisoners have the right to separate living arrangements in prison in accordance with the categories of gender, age, and reasons for imprisonment.

9. Prisoners awaiting trial have the right to be held separately from convicted prisoners; 

10. Political prisoners have the right to be segregated from other prisoners.

11. Prisoners have the right to communicate with their families and to maintain familial relationships.

12. Prisoners have the right to free legal assistance.


PDLs have the right to be free from abuse and against deprivation of their basic needs. They have the right against corporal punishment, or the use of physical force and solitary confinement. Prisoners have the right to exercise their religious beliefs and keep access to health services, rehabilitation programs, visitation and mail services, free legal services and materials. They have the right to complain to proper authorities.

PDLs also have a right to good conduct time allowance (GCTA) for good behavior. Women prisoners have a right to be attended by women personnel, without prejudice to male doctors and other male personnel carrying out their duties in the facilities. Foreign nationals detained in Philippine prisons have the right to communicate with the diplomatic representatives of their respective countries of origin.

The report on the 2004 National Survey of Inmates commissioned by the Supreme Court found that many inmates in Philippine prisons and jails “[lacked] adequate knowledge on the justice system, particularly on legal aid services and redress mechanism for delays in the prosecution of cases in court.” 


The survey sought to determine whether inmates had knowledge of the following legal remedies and options:


• the existence of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) before detention;

• the right to bail;

• the warrant of arrest;

• the right against involuntary admission of guilt;

• the right to legal counsel;

• the laws and rules on protection of juvenile offenders; and

• the knowledge of legal procedures after the arrest.


The survey came up with some disturbing findings. More than half (56 percent)  of inmates in city jails within the National Capital Region (and less than 50 percent in jails outside NCR) had no knowledge of the existence of PAO before detention. 

Almost 80 percent of inmates surveyed knew that they could be temporarily released through bail. But only a very small number of these inmates were able to avail themselves of this option because of poverty. Meanwhile, less than half of inmates (39-47 percent) in national prisons knew they had the right to plead not guilty or not admit to the crime they had been accused of unless proven otherwise.

“Prisoners/detainees suffer from physical barriers accessing both the legal system and appropriate intermediaries. They have difficulties getting access to information about their rights and where to get assistance,” the report concluded.


What are the international laws applicable to prisons and jails in the Philippines?

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). ICCPR is a treaty adopted on Dec. 16, 1966 at the UN General Assembly and implemented on March 23, 1976. This multilateral treaty enjoins signatories to honor civil and political rights of individuals such as their right to life, free speech, freedom of assembly and religion, electoral rights, as well as right to due process and a right to a fair trial.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). CAT is an international law adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1994 and enforced on June 26, 1987. It commits parties to undertake measures to prevent torture in any form within their jurisdictions. These include ensuring laws that ban torture, investigation of allegations of torture, the grant of compensation to victims of torture, and the prosecution of torturers. Parties are banned from using evidence or information produced from torture in courts. They are also disallowed from deporting, extraditing or refouling people who have substantial grounds that they will be tortured in the places they will be deported or extradited to. CAT requires signatory states to prevent “other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture.” As of writing, 83 states have signed the convention, including the Philippines.

On Dec. 18, 2002, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). OPCAT establishes an international system for inspecting prisons and areas of detention. The Philippines acceded to the OPCAT in 2012.

The UN General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners on Dec. 14, 1990. Among others, it declares that (1) all prisoners shall be treated with respect and dignity; (2) prisoners shall not be discriminated against because of their race, color, sex, religion, language, political beliefs, or social origin; (3) prisoners shall be accorded respected for their religious beliefs and customs; (4) maintenance of prisons and prisoners must be in line with the state’s other social objectives of protecting all members of society;

(5) Except for the limitations of their incarceration, all prisoners shall retain their human rights and fundamental freedoms as enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other covenants the state is party to; (6) all prisoners have a right to cultural activities and education; (7) efforts must be made to abolish solitary confinement as punishment, or restrict its use; (8) prisons must allow for prisoners to undertake meaningful remunerated employment that would help them reintegrate into society; (9) prisoners shall have access to health services; and (10) favorable conditions must be undertaken to help prisoners reintegrate into society.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Also called the Mandela Rules in honor of longtime political prisoner and former South African President Nelson Mandela, it was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 17, 2015. The rules cover minimum standards in prisons like personal hygiene; clothing; bedding of prisoners; as well as instruments of restraint; contact outside of prisons; mechanisms for complaints; notification of prisoners’ illnesses, transfer, or death; quality of prison personnel; and prison inspections, among many others. These are considered “soft laws” in the Philippines.


Other international treaties, covenants and principles applicable to prisons and prisoners: 

• Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988)

• Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1975)

• Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987)

• Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, Particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1982)

• Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955, 1957, and 1977)

• UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice or the Beijing Rules (1985)


What is the prison capacity of correctional facilities and institutions in the Philippines? What is the PDL population in the Philippines?

In its 2018 report, the “World Prison Brief” – a database maintained by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research at the University of London – declared that the Philippines had the second most overcrowded prison system in the world. It was second only to Haiti. 

Data obtained by the PCIJ from BJMP put the congestion rate of the Philippine correctional system at 403 percent. This has already decreased from 427 percent in 2019 and 439.47 percent in 2018. Overcrowding stood at an all-time high in 2017 at 612 percent. 

There were 470 jail facilities in the country in 2020, according to BJMP data. These facilities were manned by 16,949 jail personnel.




What is a child in conflict with the law (CICL)?

According to the PNP’s 2016 Manual in Handling Children at Risk and Children in Conflict with the Law: “A ‘child in conflict with the law’ or ‘CICL’ refers to a child who is alleged as, accused of, or adjudged as, having committed an offense under Philippine laws.”

In the Philippines, a child or a minor is legally defined as a person below 18 years of age. Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, age 15 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR). Lawmakers, however, have been pushing for the lowering of MACR from 15 to 12 – a move that has been strongly opposed by many child rights advocates and experts.

How many CICLs are there in the country?

The PNP Women and Children Protection Center has reported that from January to December 2020, authorities arrested 15,892 CICLs. Of these, 1,806 were undergoing diversion at the police level and 9,502 were turned over to Local Social Welfare and Development Officers (LSWDO) or DSWD representatives. A total of 2,447 CICLs were turned over to their families, while 3,111 were at large. Thirty-seven juveniles were incarcerated in facilities under BJMP.

Crimes allegedly committed by CICLs in 2020 were rape (1,506 offenders), violation of RA 9165 (Prohibited Drugs) (1,207), theft (765), and other crimes (10,079). In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, 1,452 were arrested in violation of RA 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern).

As of December 2020, there were 37 Bahay Pag-asa facilities across the country, funded and maintained by local government units. Meanwhile, in Regional Rehabilitation Centers for the Youth, there was overcrowding. From January to December 2020, there were 1,118 beds but 1,738 “clients” served in these beds.


What are the government institutions that oversee prisons and jails in the Philippines?

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) is the government agency responsible for directing, supervising and controlling all district, city and municipal jails. It has rules and procedures that all jail officials must follow, covering commitment, classification, treatment, control, movement and transfer of prisoners and detainees.

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is a bureau under the Department of Justice tasked to implement institutional rehabilitation programs for national offenders, ensure humane confinement, and rehabilitate of criminal offenders. It implements its own rules and procedures under the Manual of the Bureau of Corrections for its personnel, while setting the standard for humane treatment of prisoners. 

The Bureau of Child and Youth Welfare provides treatment for the rehabilitation of minors or children over nine years but under 18 at the time of the commission of the offense. 

Provincial Governments supervise and control provincial jails (104 in all), including sub-provincial jails.The Parole and Probation Administration (PPA), created pursuant to PD 968, and amended under EO 292, supervises prisoners who have been released and  who are serving part of their sentences in parole or conditional pardon. 


What are political prisoners?

The US colonial-era Executive Order No. 65 s. 1945, signed by President Sergio Osmena, was the first to officially use the term “political prisoners” to mean prisoners accused of crime against national security. In using this narrow definition, BuCor reported 55 political prisoners in its facilities as of August 2020. The BJMP, meanwhile, does not collect data on political prisoners.

But political prisoner is a term that has generally meant individuals detained or incarcerated by the state because of their political beliefs that usually ran counter to the status quo defended by that state. 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in October 2012, came up with concrete criteria on who is considered a political prisoner. To be called a political prisoner, one has to meet any of the following criteria:

• the detention violates basic guarantees in the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of expression and information; and freedom of assembly and association;

• the detention is imposed for purely political reasons;

• the length or conditions of detention are out of proportion to the offense; 

• he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; and

• the detention is the result of judicial proceedings that are clearly unfair and connected with the political motives of authorities. 

According to human rights group Karapatan, there are 703 political prisoners in the country, as of March 2021. A total of 96 of these are sick, 65 are elderly, and six are minors.


What are prisoners of conscience?


The international human rights organization Amnesty International has used the term “prisoner of conscience” to refer to political prisoners. It defines the term as “someone who has not used or advocated violence or hatred but is imprisoned because of who they are (sexual orientation, ethnic, national or social origin, language, birth, color, sex or economic status) or what they believe (religious, political or other conscientiously held beliefs).”


Do journalists have a right to access PDLs, as well as prison personnel, for interviews and information?

Legally, journalists and members of the media do not have special privileges inside prisons and jails in the Philippines apart from those afforded to ordinary citizens. Generally, journalists’ right to access to information of public interest  inside prisons and jails are covered by Article III (Bill of Rights), Section 4: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Of course, the Philippine government is also duty bound to adhere to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which says that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Journalists who seek to cover prisons and jails, including interviews with inmates and jail personnel, are subject to regulations set by each correctional facility. But information for stories about prison conditions, or specific cases of inmates, can be obtained from sources outside the strict confines of the jails and prisons. Journalists can access courts and their records, lawyers (legal counsels of inmates as well as their public prosecutors), family members, former fellow inmates, friends, and nongovernment organizations and advocacy groups involved in specific cases or specific groups of inmates (e.g. political prisoners, juvenile delinquents or women prisoners) or entire jails or prison facilities.


What are some of the issues that journalists can investigate or write about regarding prison conditions in the Philippines?

Overcrowding. As mentioned earlier, jails and prisons in the country are 411 percent overcrowded in 2020. Stories and images of the country’s congested jails made it to international publications and media outlets in 2019 – shedding light on the crisis of overcrowding in jails and prisons in the Philippines. As for CICLs, of the 15 regional rehabilitation centers for the youth from January to December 2020, six were overcrowded.

Pre-trial detainees. More than 75 percent of incarcerated individuals in the Philippines have cases at the pre-trial stage, according to the World Prison Brief. This increased from 2015 at 69.1 percent. This means that more and more Filipinos are in correctional facilities even as they have yet to stand trial. Instances of jail time lasting longer than their actual sentences are rampant. This fact exposes a deep crisis in the justice system.

Corruption. Every now and then, stories of inmates bribing jail or prison personnel, even officials, for special privileges, surface. In 2019, media reported on allegations that certain BuCor officials sold Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) privileges to convicted murderer-rapist Antonio Sanchez to obtain early release. Only a public outcry blocked Sanchez’s release. The former town mayor died in prison in March 2021.

Deaths inside prisons. Because of overcrowding, lack of sanitation and social services, as well as the prevalence of criminal activities within correctional facilities, among other reasons, deaths inside prisons have been shockingly high. In 2020 alone, deaths among prisoners and detainees reached 1,005, according to data obtained by PCIJ. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death, followed by cardiorespiratory failure, pneumonia, septic shock and respiratory failure. The problem has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Twenty-five of the 1,005 deaths were Covid-related, according to BJMP data.

Covid-19 prison lockdowns. How are prisoners and detainees handling lockdowns in this pandemic? Most, if not all, correctional facilities in the country have been at different stages of lockdown. Most of these facilities have not allowed physical visits. Some have set up alternative, internet-based, visitations. Prison and jail personnel have also been locked down together with the prisoners and detainees for weeks on end because of the lockdowns.