Saturday, January 8, 2011

Statement of Chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales on the Bataan Provincial Jail Incident 29 October 2010

(Last October 16, 2010, political detainees along with regular inmates in Bataan Provincial Jail were hosed down and nine gunshots were heard by witnesses as a result of the surprise demolition by jail officials. In relation with this we are posting the statement of Chairperson Eta Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines about the incident for everybody's information)

source: Commission on Human Rights Philippines (CHRP)

In the last two weeks, the Commission on Human Rights has been thoroughly investigating and monitoring the Bataan Provincial Jail incident that occurred on October 16, 2010. I myself, together with a group of lawyers, doctors, investigators and other officers from our Central Office and our Region III Office, went to Bataan to visit the Provincial Jail and to dialogue with the Provincial Governor, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and the prisoners and their families. Our investigations yield the following facts:

* On August 18, 2010, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was entered into by the Provincial Government of Bataan and the BJMP, with the former transferring the management, possession, control and supervision of the Bataan Provincial Jail to the latter. The MOA was signed in recognition of the fact that the Provincial Government does not have the expertise to run the Provincial Jail.

* During the transition period up to the day the incident occurred, the BJMP, in close coordination with the Provincial Government, introduced several reforms in the management of the Provincial Jail. These reforms include: random inspections (greyhound operations) to discover and confiscate contrabands such as weapons and illegal drugs; centralized preparation and cooking of food for the prisoners, instead of giving them P35.00 daily budget for food; and the strict regulation of visitations, especially conjugal visits.

* The BJMP and the Provincial Government intended to construct permanent structures where the prisoners can have their conjugal visits. Thus, the “kubols” or the temporary structures built by the prisoners for said purpose, had to be dismantled. However, no consultation or dialogue with the inmates was conducted regarding the matter.

* On October 16, 2010, the BJMP suspended the visitation rights of prisoners in line with the construction of the permanent structures. At about 1:45 P.M, while the “kubols’ were being dismantled, prisoners detained at the new building composed of four brigades and about 600 inmates, staged a noise barrage to protest the action being undertaken by BJMP. Simultaneously, the inmates started to damage and destroy cell padlocks, gate barrel bolts, galvanized iron plates, drainage steel coverings and other properties. Concerned that the situation might go out of control, the BJMP decided to use force.

* The BJMP formed an “assault team” composed of more or less one hundred fifty (150) BJMP personnel. The “assault team” was divided into three units: the first unit was the entry team armed with a wicker shield and water hose; the second unit was the retrieval group armed with wicker shields and truncheons; the third unit was the supporting elements who provided security within the perimeter. During the assault, several warning shots were fired by BJMP personnel. The inmates did not relent. The entry team then tried to enter the new building, but the prisoners offered resistance, throwing hard objects, muriatic acid, and sharp items to the assault team. The entry team turned their pressured water hose to the inmates and a stampede occurred. The inmates were then forced to crawl back to their cells. The entry team directed the prisoners to lie on the floor; they also used their truncheons to other inmates. After the prisoners were subdued, the second unit entered the building to extricate those who were injured, account for the prisoners, and assess damaged properties. The commotion ended at around 3:30 P.M.

* Fifty-seven (57) prisoners were injured in the incident. They sustained varying degrees of physical injuries, ranging from contusions, hematoma, abrasions, avulsions, lacerations to hemorrhages in different parts of their bodies. Three prisoners were hit by rubber bullets – one was hit on the face. According to the BJMP, two of their personnel were also injured. Nobody died during the incident.

* Nineteen (19) prisoners who were suspected of instigating the incident were transferred to the Olangapo City Jail.

Based on our investigation, it is clear that human rights violations were committed against the prisoners. The injuries sustained by some prisoners reveal that excessive force was used against them. The nature and location of some injuries even suggest that the prisoners were beaten while they were defenseless. Indeed, the use of pressured water hose had already caused the prisoners to lie prostrate on the ground. Worse, rubber bullets were fired at some prisoners, belying the claim that the shots were only warning shots. These rubber bullets were not officially issued by the government; their use was not officially sanctioned.

While we do commend the desire of the Provincial Government of Bataan and the BJMP to institute needed reforms in the jail management system, these reforms have to be carried out in a manner that pays tribute to the inherent dignity of the prisoners. Simply put, the end does not justify the means. The process towards reforms must itself be consistent with the general principles of transparency and participation. Since they are the primary stakeholders, the prisoners should have been consulted regarding the proposed reforms, or at least the very least, kept informed. Prisoners have the right to be informed about all matters that affect their welfare inside the jail.

In light of all these, we call on the Department of Interior and the Local Government (DILG) and the BJMP to immediately conduct an in-depth investigation on the incident. Their investigation should result in the identification of what went wrong before, during, and after the incident. They should also identify who should be held accountable, and what are the necessary steps to correct the mistakes. Specifically, the investigation should treat the issues of excessive use of force, use of the rubber bullets, and lack of information.

The Bataan Provincial Jail incident is but a symptom of the sorry state of our jail system. We need to address the root causes of the problems hounding the jail system if we want to prevent another violent jail incident from occurring. Thus, we call on all government agencies directly dealing with prisons, jails and detention centers – the DILG and the BJMP, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Corrections, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the local governments – to review our policies, systems and processes, and align them to internationally-accepted minimum standards of treatment of prisoners. We also call on the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the judges and the prosecutors, to ensure the speedy dispensation of justice to de-clog our jails and prisons and pave the way for a restorative approach to the criminal justice system.

The Commission on Human Rights believes in Restorative Justice. Rather than satisfying the primal need for retribution – the proverbial eye for an eye, tooth for tooth notion of justice – the government should focus its resources in reintegrating to the community those who have committed wrongs and infractions. We need to stop dehumanizing the detained and start treating them as human beings possessed of inherent dignity. We should all work to establish a justice system that seeks to restore victims and offenders alike, allowing them to become whole, contributing and productive members of society. Anything less will amount to violations of their human rights.

Commission on Human Rights
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