The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has denied a human rights group’s accusation that it was trying to “mute the voices” of political detainees who were on a hunger strike during Pope Francis’ visit, saying the imposition of conditions on people who want to visit them was well within United Nations rules on the treatment of prisoners.
Kristine Felisse Mangunay | Philippine Daily Inquirer| 4:50 AM | Sunday, January 18th, 2015
MANILA, Philippines—The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has denied a human rights group’s accusation that it was trying to “mute the voices” of political detainees who were on a hunger strike during Pope Francis’ visit, saying the imposition of conditions on people who want to visit them was well within United Nations rules on the treatment of prisoners.
In a letter to Karapatan, which had made the accusation, the BJMP said its visitation policy—which requires visitors to present a clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation and papers from the Securities and Exchange Commission proving the legitimacy of their groups—allowed jail officials to determine if the visitors were reputable.
The detainees are held in Special Intensive Care Area 1 (SICA1) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Determining the legitimacy of visitors is based on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which was adopted by the 1955 First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Geneva, Switzerland, the BJMP said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer.
“The… provision refers not just to any kind of friends but to reputable friends, subject to restrictions and supervision as are necessary in the interest of the administration of justice and of the security and good order of the institution,” the BJMP said.
According to the BJMP, a reputable person is someone who is “respected and trusted by most people, (has) a good reputation, (is) honorable and trustworthy.”
Security of ‘inmates’
“These friends of the inmates who wish to visit are not personally known to the BJMP officers and personnel, thus, without a visitation policy, it is hard if not impossible for the BJMP to determine whether or not these people are of good reputation,” the letter said.
Insp. Aris Villaester, BJMP National Capital Region spokesperson, said in a phone interview on Thursday the visitation policy was also “for the security” of the “inmates,” who are “noted” individuals.
He said the jail management was only “trying to prevent (anything bad) from happening to them.”
“That’s why we have to know if they [visitors] are really a doctor, a lawyer, etc., before they are allowed entry,” he said.
The 32 political detainees at Camp Bagong Diwa—22 of whom are held at the SICA1— have been on a hunger strike since Saturday, hoping to dramatize their call for Pope Francis, who is on a four-day visit to the country, to intercede for their release.
According to Karapatan, jail officials led by SICA1 warden Supt. Michelle Ng Bonto on Tuesday and Wednesday refused to allow the entry of visitors of the detainees.
The political detainees held in SICA1 include Alan Jazmines, Tirso Alcantara and Leopoldo Caloza who are accused of being communist rebels, but who Karapatan said were consultants to the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
Some of the visitors denied entry reportedly included Community Medicine Development Foundation director Dr. Julie Caguiat and known activist leaders former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, Bayan chair Carol Araullo and Karapatan chair Marie Hilao-Enriquez.
Karapatan said jail authorities told them they were not on the approved list of visitors, which included doctors, and that the prisoners were “OK” but they needed clearance from higher authorities before being allowed entry.