PCIJ’s Prison Reporting Project is a year-and-a-half-long journalistic audit of the rights and welfare conditions of persons deprived of liberty (PDL), including interventions by state agencies, as well as weaknesses in access to justice of PDLs.
The pandemic has only exacerbated what was already a very serious humanitarian crisis. Philippine jails and detention centers have become the most overcrowded in the world, eclipsing Haiti’s, according to Dr. Raymund Narag of Southern Illinois University's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
“A humanitarian crisis is facing the Philippine corrections. The Philippine National Police (PNP) detention centers, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and provincial jails, and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) prisons are not only full to the brim, they are teeming with emaciated and disease-carrying bodies,” Narag said, in a report for PCIJ published on July 23, 2018.
The assumption of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency on June 30, 2016 worsened overcrowding in jails and prisons. Further congestion was fueled by his brutal war on illegal drugs and criminality. By 2017, the average congestion rate in Philippine jails and prisons was at a staggering 612 percent, meaning these facilities were operating at more than five times their capacity. From 2018 to 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, congestion rates hovered above 400 percent.
This serious humanitarian crisis prompted PCIJ to launch the Prisons Reporting project. With support from the American Bar Association-Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), PCIJ enlisted three experienced journalists in different parts of the country to report on the conditions of PDLs in different jails and prisons.
The reporters for the project are Rachel Malaguit, who reports on juvenile delinquents in Bahay Pag-asa juvenile facility in Valenzuela City; Edz dela Cruz on women detainees at the female dormitory of Taguig City Jail inside Camp Bagong Diwa; and Amy Cabusao on detainees in Davao City Jail.
This project looks into concerns over access to justice in jails and detention centers through data-gathering, research, and interviews with detainees and their family members, as well as their lawyers and custodial officers.
In most cases, especially amid the drug war and the Covid-19 crisis, the poor suffered the most from lack of access to justice, and PDLs among them experienced the worst stigma.
The PCIJ has come up with this Primer on Reporting on Prisons and Jails in the Philippines to help journalists and researchers.
The primer is mainly structured as an FAQ, and contains key information on Philippine prisons and jails, including the extent of overcrowding, local and international laws that govern PDLs, and the different government agencies and other stakeholders involved in the Philippine correctional system.
PCIJ reporter Kenneth Guda conducted research and wrote this primer. Stanley Buenafe-Gajete contributed research.— PCIJ, November 2021