Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the high death rate among persons deprived of liberty

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the high death rate among persons deprived of liberty

The 2021 data of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) revealed that 1,166 individuals out of the total 48,501 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) died within correctional facilities—the highest figure in 32 years.

As of September 2022, there have already been more than 700 PDLs who have died in custody. This is tantamount to three to four PDL-deaths every day. According to the BuCor, the leading causes of death among PDLs were old age and sickness. BuCor officer-in-charge General Gregorio Catapang Jr. also said that they will review the data to determine COVID-19-related deaths.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is gravely alarmed by this report. These numbers depict a cruel reality for PDLs across the country. CHR has always maintained that the overcrowding of detention facilities—coupled with poor hygiene and ventilation issues—severely endangers the safety of PDLs and staff alike, even more so when there are imminent threats to their health because of a global pandemic.

CHR stresses that the Philippine government has assumed the primary responsibility to ensure a humane correctional system that will guarantee the welfare of PDLs as enshrined in the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (‘Mandela Rules’); the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (‘the Bangkok Rules’) and the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (‘the Havana Rules). The government must therefore take constitutional actionable steps towards the reformation and possible reintegration of PDL to mainstream society. However, present conditions, which imperil the lives of PDLs, fall short in compliance with these standards.

These untimely deaths may likely rob PDLs of due process and even halt the progress of justice for their victims. Such circumstances affect the justice system at large. If these continue to be neglected, the country may be at serious risk of betraying its international commitments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UN CAT) and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT); and other international instruments protecting the rights of PDL.

Mindful of these human rights obligations, CHR also continues to urge the Philippine government to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) through legislation to address conditions of PDLs that may be tantamount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment or torture. Presently, CHR assumes as interim NPM to usher the government’s compliance with UNCAT and its OPCAT, but we hope the government considers the passage of an NPM law as one of its priorities.

CHR remains faithful to its mandate in conducting visits to places of deprivation of liberty to help improve the human rights condition of PDL and the state of detention facilities in the country. We further recommend the need to prioritise and expedite decongestion efforts, consider the use of non-custodial alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, non-serious offenders and uphold their fundamental right to a fair trial and speedy disposition of their cases.

The Commission also joins the call for the granting of executive clemency for qualified detainees, especially the elderly and the ailing. The release of PDLs—provided that they have demonstrated good behavior, pose no threat to society, and meet the legal standards for clemency—will further the government’s decongestion efforts.

We also urge the government for the immediate review of cases of individuals allegedly being targeted because of their political affiliations.

Finally, CHR reminds the government of its obligation to treat all prisoners with respect for their inherent dignity and value as human beings. The ICCPR states that, “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” May this continue to be a guiding principle to the government as it shapes a restorative justice system that upholds the rights and dignity of all. ###

[1] PDL Statistics 1990-2022