The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) convened on April 26, 2022 over 60 participants from the academe, civil society, government, and the media for the second focus group discussion (FGD) of its Prison Reporting Project. 

The project is a two-year journalistic audit of the rights and welfare conditions of persons deprived of liberty (PDL), including interventions by state agencies, as well as weaknesses in PDL’s access to justice. 

In April 2022, the PCIJ published the second series of reports of the 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 various jails and prisons. 

“The main goals of this project… is to increase the awareness and engagement of the public on human rights, and the rule of law, and increase the awareness and engagement of the key actors on the issue… to come up with recommendations on how to improve the prison system in the country,” Kenneth Roland Guda, PCIJ reporter and Prison Reporting Project manager said during the event. 

ABA-ROLI Country Director for the Philippines Peter Mackenzie said as of 2021, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) reported having 94,000 male PDLs and 11,000 female PDLs under its jurisdiction in 470 facilities. The Bureau of Corrections also reported having nearly 49,000 PDLs in its facilities, including 29,000 in the National Bilibid Prison alone. 

“These numbers are staggering… [that] living conditions in Philippine prisons have been described as a humanitarian crisis,”  Mackenzie said in his opening address. 

“ABA-ROLI is cognizant of these realities, and has enthusiastically supported PCIJ’s work in supporting these individuals as we become more informed as we advocate for the appropriate responses and legal reforms to address this crisis,” he added. 

The PCIJ conducts an FGD after every series of reports is published to engage PDLs, advocates, and state actors to take steps for prison reform. For the second FGD, representatives from a number of non-government organizations like Human Rights Watch, government agencies like the Philippine Commission on Women, and academics from the University of the Philippines graced the event. 

“We are hoping that by putting the spotlight on situations of persons deprived of liberty, by reporting on their concerns and issues, we may contribute to pushing for much-needed reforms,” PCIJ Executive Director Carmela Fonbuena added. 


Illustration by Cartoonist ZACH

To summarize the event, PCIJ tapped acclaimed artists to capture the three breakout sessions held. 

Cartoonist ZACH, who commands a social media following for his lampoons on state issues, drew a detailed editorial cartoon for the breakout session on “Patong.” The artist, who uses a pseudonym, emphasized in his editorial cartoon the role of state actors, from President Rodrigo Duterte to the Philippine National Police, in the on-going drug war. 
Alexandra Paredes, a graphic artist who has worked with organizations like the Forest Foundation Philippines, Fight Inequality Alliance, and the Regional Human Rights Commission, took a more literal interpretation of the breakout session on women detainees and medical needs of PDLs with a detailed summary of the talking points of speakers.  

Meanwhile, Joseph Luigi Almuena, PCIJ’s graphic designer and illustrator, went for a metaphorical interpretation of the “Growing out of jail” story, as he sees the subject in the story as one that seeks to write a new life, in a new light. 


Illustration by Joseph Luigi Almuena

The PCIJ is set to release the last series of stories for the Prison Reporting Project by October 2022.


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