By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Yes, this is nothing new: that the wheels of justice in our courts grind excruciatingly slow, and that the victims are mostly the poor who are arrested, detained and charged with common, even petty, crimes.
This fact has been generally known, and frustratingly acknowledged both by the public and those in government through the succession of presidents.
So is the fact that our jails are overcrowded, have dismally poor health-medical facilities and services, inadequate water and electric-power supply, and feed inmate meals hardly fit for human consumption. Jail officials often abuse, exploit and oppress their wards.
I invite you to look into the conditions of detainees at the Angeles (City) District Jail – not that these are, by any measure, the worst of the lot. I wish to share the insights and courageous initiative of a long-time friend – a younger colleague in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship who hails from a prominent clan in Angeles – who by a twist of circumstances is now a detainee in that jail.
Last November Bobbie and I visited our friend, Gil N. Lim. His wife had died in 2008, left two children, aged 17 and 12, to his loving care. In April 2011 Gil was physically parted from his children when he was arrested, detained and charged, along with two young men, with buying an illegal drug.
Gil believes he was framed up. No less than his arresting officer told him so, and he found the information credible:
Apparently certain members of his clan conspired with “some influential people” to get Gil out of the way because of his dispute with them over the disposition of a 14-hectare portion of the clan’s vast property in the city. The end-goal was for the city government to distribute the land to the informal settler families that have occupied the area for years and demanded that it be subdivided among them.
Aided by his lawyer-uncle Jose “Senseng” Suarez, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution (who has been ailing and unable to help further), Gil resolutely moved to hand over the 14 hectares to the city government.
Had it pushed through, Gil pointed out, the land transfer would have resolved two problems: settle the clan’s P150-million real-estate tax arrears, and solve the city government’s problem with the “squatters.” He felt bad that his relatives didn’t want to yield that land, when they have much more property.
Gil then related his woes under detention and over the slow pace of his court case. Of nine scheduled hearings, only three pushed through. He expressed revulsion over propositions by persons in power, through intermediaries, to facilitate the early resolution of his case in his favor in exchange for large amounts of money. He spurned them all.
Nonetheless, Gil was animated by a strong desire to help his fellow detainees who had stayed longer and endured more hardships and disappointments. The old social activist had reemerged in him. Before we left the jail, we urged Gil to write about his experiences and insights.
This week, I received a large brown envelope from Gil. It contained a copy of a 7-page open letter to President Aquino, signed by him and fellow detainee Romy D. Vergara on behalf of the other detainees, and an “Open statement on truth, justice and freedom” of the detainees, their relatives and friends. Both documents list the detainees’ grievances and corresponding recommended actions. Also enclosed were lists of the detainees’ names, their respective signatures, and length of detention.
For lack of space, I’ll cite just three salient points in the letter to P-Noy and the open statement:
1. The backlogs in the court dockets have landed Angeles City in the Top 3 of 120 cities with the most unresolved cases. (This is evidenced by the list of the 500 detainees who signed: two have been detained for 17 years, two for 12 years, five for 10 years, 15 for 9 years, 24 for 8 years, and 22 for 7 years.)
Main cause of hearing postponements: absence of prosecutors and witnesses.
2. The BJMP management has delegated to the leaders of the Sputnik gang the tasks of enforcing detention rules and regulations, maintaining order and discipline, and representing the detainees with the authorities. This setup has resulted in many abuses of authority, the collection of “dues” allegedly for a welfare fund that isn’t accounted for, and the continued punishment through “takal” (beating with a wooden paddle) that has been officially banned.
3. Visits by relatives and even conferences with the detainees’ lawyers can be arbitrarily barred. This violates the detainees’ basic rights.
Gil wrote to P-Noy: “Staying here for a year now… I have seen the realities of the life of an ordinary Filipino in a Filipino jail managed by Filipinos with an infantile sense of morality and authority… I have realized that life here at the ADJ is a microcosm of the Filipino society.”
To me, Gil wrote: “We expect reprisals from the Sputnik and BJMP personnel when they find out that these papers have been sent out. Please help us.”
My initial response is this column piece.
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May 12, 2012