Playground Behind Bars
First of four-part series
Roy (not his real name), 15, had
been covering up his arm the whole afternoon when visitors went to their
cell. When the jail warden made the juvenile law offenders squat and line
up to greet the visitors, he went to the farthest spot to avoid being
seen. It turns out Roy had boils all over his left arm, which was already
oozing with pus. Almost all the boys in the cell had boils either on
their arms or legs and the elders in the other cells told them that the
rice (also known as rancho) was the cause of the ‘boil epidemic’ at
the city jail.
Buensuceso, Ronald Caraig, Likha Cuevas, and Jenielle Marie Enojo
Roy (not his real
name), 15, hid his left arm the whole afternoon when visitors went to
the juvenile law offenders’ jail cell. When the jail warden made them
squat and line up to greet the visitors, he went to the farthest spot to
avoid being seen. It turns out Roy had boils all over his left arm, which
was already oozing with pus. Almost all the boys in the cell had boils
either on their arms or legs and the elders in the other cells told them
that the rice (also known as rancho) was the cause of the “boil
epidemic” in the city jail.
Parañaque City Jail
condition, Roy did not plead with the visitors for help. He actually hoped
that they would leave as soon as possible. He was watching television
before they came in and he wanted to continue watching his favorite show.
Watching television is practically the only thing he and the rest of the
juvenile inmates could do, day in and day out as they serve their
Thousands of child
Roy is one of the
thousands of children in conflict with the law (CICL) detained in youth
homes and city jails in the Philippines. According to the Department of
Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), there were 3,867 CICL in 2004. CICL
are youth law offenders aged nine to 18, a new term for what we used to
call “juvenile delinquents”.
Art. 80 of the
Revised Penal Code (RPC) states that a CICL shall be put under the custody
of a publicly-recognized private institution or any other responsible
person. On the other hand, Art. 191 of Presidential Decree (PD) 603 states
that in the absence of a youth home, the provincial city and municipal
jails shall provide a cell for CICL separate from adult detainees.
At present, there are
only four youth homes nationwide: Molave Youth Home (Quezon City), Manila
Youth Reception Center (MYRC), Pasay City Youth Home (PCYH), and the
Regional Rehabilitation Center for the Youth (Cebu
The objective of
these youth homes is to provide a respectable and homey atmosphere for the
CICL. They seek to provide care, love, and guidance through ministerial
programs and services that will adequately prepare the children to be good
However, have these
youth homes achieved their purpose?
Eric Henry Joseph
Mallonga, a human rights and Bantay Bata (children’s watch) 163
lawyer, argued that these youth homes are not really “homes.”
pails serve 15 residents, among them a 15-year-old boy with boils all over
his left arm, at a cramped city jail
“These youth homes
are schools for crime. What the children see is a life of crime,” he said.
He also stated that with the presence of the grills in these youth homes’
cells, these places do not really provide the home-like atmosphere that
the children need.
was supported by MYRC Chief Camilo Marinay. He admitted that the youth
home has a problem and that he wants to implement some changes in the
facilities, programs and activities for the CICL to transform the MYRC
into a “child-friendly institution.”
The MYRC was
established in 1962 through the support of former Manila Mayor Arsenio H.
Lacson. The MYRC houses 150 CICL as of Feb. 24. The youth home has six
dormitories and one isolation room, the latter being similar to an adult
city jail’s bartolina (dungeon).
One of the many
problems at the MYRC is the lack of facilities such as dining tables,
library and rooms for holding classes. According to a CICL housed at the
MYRC, the children eat their meals on the floor inside their dorms. Worse,
there was a time when they did not have forks, spoons and drinking
“Nung dumating ako
dito hindi gumagamit ang mga bata ng kutsara. Na-shock
ako. Kasi nung time na dumating ako, ang kakainin ng bata ay champorado.
Sabi ko, iho, pa’no mo kakainin yan? Sige nga, pakita mo sa ’kin. Ang
ginawa ng bata? Kinamay kahit mainit pa” (Before I came here, the
children were eating without utensils. On the day I arrived, they were
about to eat chocolate porridge. I asked a kid how he intended to eat it
and he used his hand even if the porridge was hot), Marinay said.
Marinay then reported
the matter to Dr. Jose Baranda, officer-in-charge of Manila’s DSWD. He
requested that spoons be given to children for humanitarian reasons.
Baranda, according to Marinay, said the absence of eating utensils was
justified because the children used these utensils before, particularly
forks, as weapons during riots.
An MYRC insider added
that children used to play with their drinking glasses. Despite these
prior incidents, Marinay repeated his request to the OIC, this time minus
Although Baranda told
Marinay that they had no budget for that, the MYRC chief argued that he
would call the attention of the budget officer. Baranda immediately
ordered that spoons be bought.
The MYRC chief
pointed out that the center needed fire extinguishers, fire alarms or
bells, emergency lights, washing machines and centralized sound systems
because he believes that playing soft music would somehow help relax and
clear these children’s minds, which would then affect their behavior.
He also said that he
plans to repaint the dorms, with the CICL’s help, to make these home-like.
Right now, the dorms do not look like children’s homes. Aside from that,
he also wants to revise the current daily activities and programs for the
children, as he observed them to be quite boring.
Another major problem
that the MYRC faces is funding. MYRC insiders said that they do not
receive enough funds from the city government. This is why almost all the
facilities are not functional.
In 2004, the city
government provided funds to the MYRC amounting to P3,473,202.37
($62,210.32, based on an exchange rate of P55.83 per US dollar). The city
government also allotted P17.8 million ($318,825) for food supplies. Aside
from these, the MYRC also receives cash donations from the Philippine
Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and some non-government organizations
(NGOs). The PCSO donates about P500,000 ($8,955.76) yearly.
A source from the
Manila DSWD revealed that the city government plans to transfer the MYRC
to Marikina City, where the Boys
Town Center is located. According
to him, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza wants to build low-rise housing units at
the current location of the MYRC.
The source said that
this plan would pose a big problem for the families of the CICL as well as
for government because Marikina is far and the children’s families would
find it hard to visit them. Aside from that, it would be difficult and
costlier for the city government to bring the CICL to courts during
City’s Molave has 131 CICL as of Feb. 11. Two detained CICL said that
there is adequate supply of food and facilities although they are not
provided with comfortable sleeping provisions.
Cedric (not his real name) who allegedly raped a two-year old girl
said that although everything seems to be provided for him at the youth
home, it still is not enough because he is not with his family.
Unlike their MYRC
counterparts, the Molave CICL appears to be luckier. Molave’s
administrator said the youth home is fully supported by the Quezon City
government. The city gives sufficient budget and prioritizes Molave’s
needs. In fact, the local government allotted P4.5 million ($80,601.83)
for the youth home in 2005. Molave also has educational and livelihood
programs such as handicrafts making which are supervised by house parents.
But the CICL in
Molave and MYRC do not have beds to sleep on. They usually sleep on
cartons without pillows. Likewise, with the CICL in the city jails - they
sleep like daing (dried fish) on the floor. An MYRC social worker
said there used to be double-deck beds but these were removed because
children used the beds’ steel posts as weapons.
While the CICL in
youth homes mingle with the people of the same age, those detained in
jails have no choice but socialize with adult detainees. Despite having
separate cells, the youth law offenders still interact with adult inmates
because the cells do not have covers or dividers. Jail officers claim that
seeing these hardened criminals may affect the CICL emotionally and
Meanwhile, 20 of the
550 detainees at Las Piñas City Jail are minors. There are 17 males and
three females but only the male CICL have a separate cell. Among the other
city jails, the detainees here are freer to walk within the congested
halls of the jail, literally rubbing elbows with elder detainees who are
suffering from various diseases.
Senior Jail Officer 4
(SJ04) Nicolas Rañona of the Las Piñas City Jail, on the other hand, said
that the problem in their jail is the ratio of jail officers to the
detainees. “Marami kami kapag umaga kasi office hours, pero kapag gabi
tatlo na lang kami, at may almost 550 kaming detainees ditto” (There
are many of us in the morning since this is covered by office hours, but
during night time, there are only three of us and there are almost 550
detainees here), Rañona said. The jail was constructed to accommodate only
200. Because the actual number of detainees exceeds the capacity of jails,
the cells become cramped.
Like the one in Las
Piñas, the Parañaque City Jail is also congested. Given that detainees are
physically close to one another, the 16 CICL are prone to be afflicted
with various diseases of adult offenders, particularly boils. Moreover,
according to Jail Supt. Danilo Abelinde, the jail does not have adequate
The situation in
congested jails and youth homes in the country is even worsened by poor
ventilation. A cell for minors at the Muntinlupa City Jail has only one
electric fan for 27 CICL. What the CICL and the adult inmates normally do
is to take off their shirts to have some comfort.
budget, Abelinde disclosed that most of the time, the Bureau of Jail
Management and Penology (BJMP) is delayed in releasing their budget to the
point that jail officers themselves shell out their own money. An allotted
budget for the meal of an adult inmate each day is only P35 ($0.63). Since
city jails do not have separate budget for the CICL, the jails tend to
stretch what is available.
The city jails’
budgets directly come from the BJMP and some of them are lucky to receive
funds from their local government units (LGUs), as well as donations in
cash or kind from cause-oriented groups and NGOs. For example, the Ayalas
are said to regularly donate cash and goods to the Muntinlupa City Jail.
Most of the jail
officers said that having a youth home is ideal because the CICL could be
handled by proper authorities. JO3 Pablito Sison of the Muntinlupa City
Jail admitted in an interview that children detainees should be handled by
social workers. “Iba kasi ang training namin sa BJMP, pang brusko
(Our training in the BJMP is different, we deal with the rough ones).
We are trained to handle adult detainees. Minors should be treated with
extra care and attention,” Sison said.
Although a number of
CICL are in the custody of most city jails in Metro Manila, the Makati
City Jail has not yet detained a youth offender as of the last week of
February 2005 because it practices “diversion,” or the mediation at the
immediate local level (barangay, school, community, or police) before
bringing everything to the court.
According to the
Coalition to Stop Child Detention, the principle behind diversion through
“restorative justice” is to spare the children the horrors and stigma of
incarceration and contact with the criminal justice system.
The city jails and
the MYRC do not have resident psychologists, who are supposed to provide
therapy to the CICL and in a way help them overcome trauma or fear that
may have caused them to commit the alleged crimes; or help these children
face the anxiety that they may have acquired while detained. MYRC, for
instance, does not use psychological assessment or evaluation. The Molave
has two resident psychologists.
Mallonga cited a
specific case in the Caloocan City Jail where CICL are sexually abused by
homosexual adult detainees, which traumatizes the youth. In these
situations, support from psychologists is necessary for the CICL.
Time in the Company of Hardened Criminals
Second of four parts
on Death Row and the Child-unfriendly Justice System
Third of four parts
Justice for Detained Children
Last of four parts
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