Jailhouse protest exposed detainees’ plight, group says

(Photo courtesy of Zarraga News Live)

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The recent protest mounted by persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) or inmates of the Iloilo District Jail-Male Dormitory (IDJ-MD) in Pototan, Iloilo again brought to fore the perennial problems besetting government-run jails.

This was the assessment of left-leaning group Karapatan Panay after the “rooftop protest” of IDJ-MD inmates on August 24, 2022.

The inmates climbed to the roof of the main prison building, held a noise barrage, and held up placards that read “Gutom kami” and “Layas Warden” (We’re Hungry. Get out warden).

They complained about insufficient food and demanded the removal of the jail warden, Chief Inspector Norberto Miciano Jr.

The inmates claimed that the food brought by their families were being blocked and that only cash was allowed inside, forcing the inmates to allegedly purchase overpriced food from a jail cooperative.

“Only P70 per day is allotted to cover the meals of a detainee in a BJMP facility, and the food, vitamins, and medicine delivered by relatives are crucial in making up for the inadequacy in supplies,” the group said.

The inmates voluntarily ended the noise barrage and protest sans violence following negotiations with prison and local officials

Miciano was relieved as warden and a new officer-in-charge appointed, a move the BJMP said was intended to preclude the former from influencing the ongoing investigation.

Apart from the relief of the jail warden, the inmates also secured a guarantee from government officials that they would look into the inmates’ complaints. Families were also permitted to bring food to the detainees.

Karapatan said the episode “brought widespread public attention to the perennial problems of jail congestion or overcrowding and the lack of state support for ‘persons deprived of liberty’ (PDL), the official term for prison inmates and other detainees.”

The Iloilo District Jail is among 477 detention facilities in the country run by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). The population in these facilities rose from 115,336 in 2020 to 125,347 in 2021.

As of July 31, 2022, there were 131,706 inmates (117,492 males and 14,214 females) under the BJMP’s jurisdiction.

Of the 477 facilities, 70 percent (344) are designated by the BJMP as congested jails, with an average congestion rate of 390%. This means that roughly 5 detainees are sharing a space of 4.7 square meters, the area considered by the BJMP as ideal for a single detainee.

The group said this is far from compliant with standards set by the United Nations or by the Philippine government itself per its BJMP Manual on Habitat, Water, Sanitation, and Kitchen in Jails.

In Western Visayas, the BJMP runs 39 detention facilities, 34 of which have been designated as congested jails. According to a report by the Philippine Star, the Iloilo District Jail has a population of 1,108 inmates, and a congestion rate of around 86%. The compound houses both male and female prisoners, some of whom are elderly and suffering from different medical issues.

Data in July 2022 indicated that BJMP-Region VI facilities hold a total of 8,372 individuals (7,670 males, 702 females), 315 of whom are senior citizens. Nationwide, of the 131,706 BJMP prison population, 3,928 are senior citizens.


The wave of arrests and incarcerations resulting from the government’s anti-drug campaign is a significant factor in the problem of jail congestion.

Over 69% (91,618) are facing or have been convicted of drug charges. In Region 6, around 53% (4,481) of inmates faced drug cases.

Judging from the figures, the slow pace of judicial proceedings in the Philippines also contributes to jail congestion. Ninety percent (118,286) of all detainees nationwide are either awaiting or undergoing trial, or awaiting final judgment from the courts.

Only a tenth of the detainees (13,420) have actually been convicted. In Region 6, a slightly lower figure of 87% (7,251) are either still awaiting or undergoing trial, or awaiting final judgment.

This means that the vast majority of people locked up in these poorly-funded facilities – with limited food or access to medical supplies and services – are persons who have not yet been adjudged guilty of crimes. Many of them are either acquitted or convicted only after years of court proceedings, Karapatan-Panay added.

Apart from those within the BJMP’s jurisdiction, there are countless more imprisoned in police stations, penal institutions under the Bureau of Corrections, and other detention facilities across the country.

A detainee in a police station can spend days or even weeks in a cramped holding cell while awaiting the results of investigations before cases are filed in court, with no funds for food, clothes, or even basic items for personal hygiene.

In April 2017, when the Commission on Human Rights conducted a surprise inspection of a police station in Tondo, Manila, they found a secret cell hidden behind a bookshelf.

Twelve men and women were locked up in the cramped and dark chamber, with no electricity or functioning toilet. The detainees relieved themselves using plastic bags. Their detention was not documented in the police blotter, so, there was no record that they were being held there by the police.

The detainees claimed that the police had kept them there for a week, and demanded money, ranging from P40,000 to P200,000, for their freedom. Going beyond the issue of illegal detention, holding people captive under such terrible conditions was a clear violation of both domestic and international standards.


The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also called the “Nelson Mandela Rules”, require that every prisoner shall be regularly provided “food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served”, and that drinking water shall be available whenever the prisoner needs it.

The UN Rules also impose an obligation on the state to ensure that prisoners enjoy the same standards of health care available to the community, free access to health care services, and prompt access to medical attention in urgent cases, including specialized treatment or surgery.

Furthermore, the UN Rules mandate, among other things, that all accommodations meet requirements of health, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation; that each prisoner is provided his own bed and clean bedding; that sanitary installations, adequate bathing and shower installations be made available; that prisoners be provided with toilet articles necessary for health and cleanliness; that prisoners be allowed to exercise in the open air; and that in women’s prisons, special accommodations for pre-natal and post-natal care shall be made available.

Prisoners should also be allowed to regularly communicate with family and friends through jail visits, written correspondence and, if available, telecommunication and electronic or digital means. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited under Philippine law.

Just like with many programs in the areas of health, education and social services, the low budgetary allocations set by the national government year after year keep it from meeting international standards for the welfare of detainees.

Jail congestion is merely a principal problem in a myriad of maladies that plague the country’s prison system and deny prisoners their recognized rights.

As CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann De Guia said in a 2019 statement, “Overcrowding and the conditions it breeds are tantamount to cruel, degrading, inhuman treatment or punishment. It transgresses the very core of human dignity. Prisons are meant to help restore and rehabilitate persons deprived of liberty (PDL) and not diminish their humanity. The unceasing crisis in detention facilities requires nothing but expedient and unwavering action from all relevant State instrumentalities to genuinely restore the welfare and dignity of PDLs.”

Karapatan said the government “can avoid protests similar to what took place at the Iloilo District Jail by ensuring that the rights of all detainees are respected and, to that end, significantly increasing appropriations for their food, medicine, and other personal needs.”

“But even without such complaints from the inmates, the state still has the obligation to meet both domestic and international standards for incarceration, a responsibility premised on the fact that any detainee or prisoner – whether suspected, charged, or already convicted of a crime – is still entitled to humane treatment.”