Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V, No. 36      October 16 - 22, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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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.

by Mylene 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

Despite his 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 sentence.

Thousands of child detainees

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 City).

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 citizens.

However, have these youth homes achieved their purpose?

Not “real homes”

Eric Henry Joseph Mallonga, a human rights and Bantay Bata (children’s watch) 163 lawyer, argued that these youth homes are not really “homes.”

These few 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.

Mallonga’s statement 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 glasses.

“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.

No utensils

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 the forks.

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 hearings.

Meanwhile, Quezon 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.

Thirteen-year-old 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 psychologically.

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.

Also congested

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 water supply.

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.

Regarding jail 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. Bulatlat

Doing Time in the Company of Hardened Criminals
Second of four parts

Children on Death Row and the Child-unfriendly Justice System
Third of four parts

Slow Justice for Detained Children
Last of four parts




© 2005 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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