DEPUTY Speaker Pablo John “PJ” Garcia has filed House Bill 7703, which establishes a national monitoring system for inmates or persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and aims to decongest jails and improve inmates’ living conditions.
Under the proposed legislation, the digital network will be a secure database containing information about PDLs, including pending arrest warrants, ongoing cases and how long they have been detained. It will connect the various courts, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the Bureau of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Parole and the Parole and Probation Administration.
With information about each inmate updated, Garcia (Cebu, 3rd district) said it will be easier to identify PDLs who are eligible for parole, probation and release to help ease the problem of crowding in jails nationwide. In the bill’s explanatory note, Garcia cited data from the BJMP that in 2018, the country’s detention centers had a 582.37 percent congestion rate, an excess of over 120,000 PDLs for jail facilities and thousands of PDLs over or nearing the age of 60.
“Our criminal justice system must be compassionate and ensure the proper reintegration of rehabilitated persons into society. Lives must be redeemed to pursue their social and economic potential — lives must be empowered so that all Filipinos may attain a law-abiding and fulfilling existence,” Garcia said.
On a related issue, Garcia said he supports the transfer of provincial jails to the BJMP. “Provincial jails are a huge drain on the resources of provinces. Transferring them to the BJMP would not only ease this burden, but would facilitate the monitoring system for inmates and PDLs,” Garcia explained.
Since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, one of the challenges faced by authorities is the implementation of social distancing in congested jail facilities.
In Cebu, many PDLs in BJMP-run detention centers and the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) were infected with Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. However, most, if not all, have recovered.
On April 30, 2020, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia signed Executive Order 15, which covers protocol for the release of PDL from the CPDRC after jail officers receive a release order from the court.
Based on jail decongestion guidelines in 2014, PDLs who served their minimum penalty or whose cases were dismissed could be released.
In 2019, the CPDRC was home to 2,040 inmates. However, the number has been reduced to 1,700. (PR, ANV)