Even persons deprived of their liberties (PDLs) have the fundamental right to be respected in their persons, as guaranteed by both international and domestics laws.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution, under State Policies, declares that “[t]he State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” This is in support of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which provides that “[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human persons.” Thus, under the Philippine Constitution, the Commission on Human Rights is mandated to exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities.
The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10353, or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, likewise provides that the CHR or its duly authorized representatives are mandated and authorized to conduct regular, independent, unannounced, and unrestricted visits to or inspections of all places of detention or confinement. The IRR of R.A. No. 9745, or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, also provides that “the CHR shall exercise its visitorial powers at any time over jails, prisons and detention facilities and it shall have unrestricted access to any detention facility inside military camps, police lock-up cells, jails, prisons, youth homes, and any detention, rehabilitation, confinement and other similar facilities.
The CHR, in the exercise of its visitorial power, is also guided by the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (UNSMRTP) in monitoring the human rights conditions of PDLs.
In Manila, the Commission on Human Rights NCR Regional Field Office released an advisory regarding the visitation policy of the Manila Police District. The CHR-NCR office questioned the discriminatory practice of the MPD in allowing for jail visits. This was prompted by the observation that a complainant was not allowed to enter the MPD premises since she was wearing shorts and a pair of sandals whereas a female foreigner was allowed to enter the MPD premises at the time. Consequently, the CHR-NCR office advised the MPDO to remove from their visitation policy the prohibition on the wearing of sleeveless, sando, slippers or sandals as the said prohibition may result to violation of human rights, particularly the right against discrimination and the rights to access to justice.
There was a documented attempt to hinder CHR from the performance of its constitutional mandate to conduct unimpeded jail visits. In La Union, the CHR-Region 1 Field Office reissued an advisory on the exercise of visitorial powers of the Commission on Human Rights. This was brought about by an incident in the La Union Provincial Jail, located in Barangay Camansi, San Fernando, La Union. On March 14, 2018, The CHR Region 1 investigation team was advised by the officers of the La Union Provincial Jail led by Assistant Warden Cesar Pang-ot to first seek the permission from the Provincial Legal Office of La Union Province. This was after follow-up done by the CHR Region 1 investigation team of the presence of an alleged solitary confinement cell where a certain Noel Tolentino was incarcerated.
The UNSMRTP provides that “[a]ll accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.”
However, the realities are far from what the United Nations requires.
Most of the Philippine National Police (PNP) lock-up cells visited are still congested. The issue on congestion keeps getting worse as the administration’s “war on drugs” campaign intensifies. As persons arrested for drug-related offenses are usually brought to PNP lock-up cells for detention, these facilities are prone to becoming over-crowded way beyond their maximum capacities for accommodation.
The UNSMRTP requires an area of at least 5.4 square meter (sqm.) per PDL in a single cell and 3.4 sqm. per PDL in a shared or dormitory accommodation. This floor area requirement is rarely implemented in the country.
In the Batangas Provincial Jail, as of February 2018, the following is the number of PDLs sharing a cell and the respective floor area of each cell: