Press Release
November 19, 2016

Recto to Digong: Free sick, old prisoners this Christmas

With less than 40 days before Christmas, release papers of old, sickly and infirm prisoners should now be on their way to Malacañang, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said in appealing anew to President Duterte to give "the gift of clemency" next month to frail prisoners who have paid their dues.

"The President granting parole or pardon to prisoners on humanitarian grounds should be restored as Malacañang Christmas tradition," Recto said.

Recto said there is no lack of candidates for executive clemency as the country's penal system is full of old, infirm, gravely- or terminally-ill prisoners, especially those who are convicted of non-violent crime.

Recto said the presidential tradition of releasing prisoners during the holidays should extend to directing agencies to work out the release of detainees awaiting sentencing but have already stayed beyond what would be their maximum time in prison.

He said if the President plans to release detained communist guerillas soon, a move that will bolster the peace process, "then let the doors through which they shall pass be enjoyed by other prisoners as well."

Recto said the same template in granting full pardon to Robin Padilla can be used in setting free other prisoners.

Recto noted that the power to grant executive clemency was rarely exercised during the Aquino administration despite completed paper work on the cases of recommended recipients.

"It shows the power and potential of reformative justice. Those who have passed the more than minimum requirements for parole should be given a second chance," he said.

According to Recto, pardon and parole for deserving prisoners may be considered as part of the quick fixes that government needs to employ in order to decongest the country's jails.

Recto said it is no longer accurate to call our prisons "parang sardinas sa sikip." The correct term, he said, is "daig pa ang siniksik na longganisa."

In a Senate resolution, Recto called the government's attention to the "worsening conditions" in the country's prisons, which will cost taxpayers P10.1 billion to maintain this year.

Two government agencies run the "prison republic" - the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which is under the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which is attached to the Department of Justice.

Detainees awaiting trial and those who have been sentenced by the courts to serve time for three years and below are committed to BJMP. It had 93,961 detainees under its care in September last year.

Those who have been sentenced to more than three years and one day in prison are sent to eight BuCor facilities. More than half, or 23,749 of BuCor's 2016 prisoner population of 41,207 are in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

BJMP jails are 397 percent over capacity, Recto said. "Cells built for 18,881 prisoners now house 93,961."

Over at the BuCor, New Bilibid Prison reported a congestion rate of 181 percent with 23,749 prisoners staying in the old facility designed to house 8,460.

Overall, BuCor said its overcapacity rate this year is 158 percent.

"Instead of rehabilitating prisoners, harsh jail conditions could make them hardened criminals, with jails serving as masteral schools for a career in crime," Recto stressed.

Jail and prison congestion, he said, can be eased by reforming the justice system "so that there will be fast trials, minimum court hearing postponements."

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