September 12, 2019
THE New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa and other national penitentiaries in the country are heaven compared to the different city, provincial and municipal jails.
The latter — the various jails — can be described as hell on earth.
Hell is what doctors and my staff from “Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo describe the conditions at the Quezon City Jail Annex inside the vast camp of the National Capital Region Police Office in Bicutan, Taguig City.
Doctors from the Sagipbayan Foundation under Dr. Sammy Tanzo and my staff conducted a medical mission inside the QC Jail Annex while I was with President Digong in Beijing on September 1.
Needless to say, I regret not being there as my Ramon Tulfo Good Samaritan Foundation was the mission’s sponsor.
It was the first time my foundation and partner Sagipbayan (literal meaning: community rescuer) Foundation ventured into treating and giving free medicines to inmates.
Alin Ferrer, my Isumbong chief of staff, describes the smell of the place as that of an “uncovered cesspool.”
From the gates of the jail, the combined smell of urine, feces, sweat, unwashed bodies and uncollected garbage wafted in the air.
Many of the mission participants, most of whom were doctors and nurses from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, felt like vomiting because of the smell.
By golly, these are doctors, dentists and nurses used to treating wounds and diseases with offensive smell but what met them at the gates shocked them.
Among the mission participants was philanthropist Ernesto Bravo, owner of the St. Martin Pharmaceuticals, who donated antibiotics, cough medicine, paracetamol and vitamins for the inmates.
He set up a temporary infirmary where inmates were handed free medicines after being prescribed by doctors.
“Earnest” Bravo, who’s a Pangasinense, is a consistent partner in all my medical missions. And so is Dr. Sammy Tanzo, a Bicolano.
Dr. Tanzo, who was chef de mission, said the conditions of the inmates were kaawa-awa (pitiable).
Swarms of flies buzzed the jail guests, and rats, as big as kittens, were scurrying in every corner of the prison compound.
“Nakalimutan na ng gobyerno ang lugar na ‘yun (The place has been forgotten by the government),” Tanzo said.
Prominent inmates at the QC Jail Annex-Bicutan, include all the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre led by the brothers Andal Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, retired police Col. Wally Sombero, former deputy immigration commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, and former Palawan governor Joel Reyes.
Despite the presence of these VIPs among them, the inmates seem to have been forgotten by the government.
Among those who availed of the free treatment and medicines were the Ampatuan brothers, whose eyes were checked by ophthalmologists.
Sombero was the event organizer as he was the one who asked for the medical mission.
Sombero is a longtime friend and, as an aside, I believe that the Office of the Ombudsman erred in including him in the P50-million Bureau of Immigration extortion case because it was he who handed the money to then deputy commissioners Argosino and Robles.
(Stealing or receiving P50 million through extortion constitutes plunder, a non-bailable offense.)
Sombero should have been made state witness and not one of the conspirators in the plunder case as he never demanded the money.
Probably because I wasn’t there, former governor Reyes, who is my also my close friend, didn’t have himself treated.
Some 600 inmates — out of the total 2,300 — were treated for various skin diseases, flu, infected wounds, diarrhea, cataract.
About 150 inmates had their decaying teeth extracted.
Sagipbayan ophthalmologists — as well as myself and my staff — are scheduled to return on another mission soon to operate on inmates with cataract.
We will also treat other inmates who were not included in the September 1 medical mission because of time constraints. There were just too many of them.
Dr. Tanzo and Ms. Ferrer found all the inmates emaciated due to malnutrition.
“Wala pong pagkain dito at kawawa ‘yung walang dalaw dahil humihingi lang sila sa kapwa preso na may dalaw (There is no food here and those who are not visited by relatives are pitiful because they just beg food from those visited by relatives),” said one inmate who told Alin on the sly.
Canned goods that are brought by some inmates’ relatives or friends are either confiscated or turned back because the jail has a commissary which sells goods which cost triple the price of those outside, according to another inmate.
Most of the inmates at the QC Jail Annex, needless to say, are poor or from poor families.
The inmates who received laundry and sulfur bath soaps, coffee in sachets and sandwiches were ecstatic. Some even cried, Alin said.
Alin was handed a note by one of the inmates.
The note said many detainees who have served out their sentence are still there.
The courts that have acquitted some of them have not ordered their release.
An inmate was supposed to be freed a year ago after serving out his sentence but his release papers have yet to be processed.
Provincial, regional, city and municipal jails house detainees who could not post bail by reason of poverty while their cases are being heard by the courts.
Convicted inmates with long sentence are transferred to the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City and other penitentiaries in the country like the Iwahig Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City, San Ramon Penal Colony in Zamboanga, Davao Penal Colony in Panabo, Davao del Norte, Sablayan Penal Farm in Mindoro Oriental and Leyte Penal Colony.
Women convicts are sent to the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.
Persons convicted by the courts to serve a two-year sentence are not transferred to the national penitentiaries but remain in the various provincial, city and municipal jails to serve out their term.
In other words, most inmates whose cases are being heard by the courts are presumed innocent under our laws. So, why are they treated like animals?
Except for the provincial jails, which are under the provincial governor, all regional, city and municipal jails are supervised by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).
The BJMP is an agency under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
May we call on Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to look into the piteous conditions of the inmates in the various jails in the country instead of just sitting on his butt in his airconditioned office?
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