SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Wednesday declared the commitment of the House of Representatives to lend a hand in the collective effort to address the critical issue of jail congestion by considering various proposals for a unified approach to resolve the dire situation.
In his message at the National Jail Decongestion Summit, held Wednesday morning at the Diamond Hotel in Manila, Romualdez pointed out that the congestion of our jails is not merely a logistical or infrastructural problem but also a profound human rights issue.
The summit brought together members of the justice sector, including the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and other government agencies to tackle the complex issue of overcrowded detention facilities.
“The overcrowded conditions in our detention facilities reflect upon the state of our judicial processes and the very essence of justice and humanity in our society,” said Romualdez, leader of the 300-plus strong House of Representatives.
“Many languish in overcrowded jails, not due to the severity of their crimes, but because of prolonged processes and inadequate infrastructure. This reality calls for our immediate and decisive action,” he added.
Recently, the DOJ reported that 70 percent of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) detention facilities are already overcrowded at an average congestion rate of 386 percent.
To effectively address the challenges of jail congestion and the dire situation of persons deprived of liberty Speaker Romualdez outlined key proposals that the House is ready to consider and seriously study.
“As we deliberate over these proposals, let us remember that at the heart of our discussions are real people — individuals whose lives and futures depend on the decisions we make and the actions we take. Our duty is not just to the law but to humanity,” Romualdez said.
First, Romualdez said the House is amenable to a comprehensive review of the classification of crimes as capital” and “non-bailable,” as he noted that the Revised Penal Code’s classification system, almost a century old, needs an overhaul.
“This review will assess the deterrent effect of these classifications and consider the decriminalization of certain offenses like libel, abortion, and dueling. Our goal is to ensure that punishments are proportionate to the gravity of the crimes committed,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez also called for the enactment of a law on Diversion of Adult Offenders that would offer a program similar to the existing one diverting children in conflict with the law.
Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (RA 9344) “diversion” refers to an alternative, child-appropriate process of determining the responsibility and treatment of a child in conflict with the law on the basis of his/her social, cultural, economic, psychological or educational background without resorting to formal court proceedings.
Romualdez said the House recognizes the need for a more unified and efficient management of our prison facilities. As such, he said the House will review and examine the proposed creation of a Unified Penology System under a dedicated Department.
“This new structure, we all hope, can lead to streamlining of operations and bring our standards in line with international obligations,” he said.
The Speaker also pointed out the need for a law on Reintegration and Psychosocial Rehabilitation, as he noted that the cycle of re-offending, particularly in drug-related and property crimes, highlights the absence of effective reintegration programs.
“There may be a need for a new law focusing on reintegration, including psychosocial rehabilitation, which seeks to provide essential support for released offenders, aiding in their return to society and reducing recidivism,” Romualdez said.
Likewise, Romualdez said the House is considering amendments to the Recognizance Act to make it more accessible and effective by simplifying the process for beneficiaries and expanding the pool of potential custodians.
Lastly, Romualdez backed proposals to strengthen the Commission on Human Rights to act as the National Preventive Mechanism against Unjust Incarceration. He said the proposal involves equipping the Commission with data and analysis tools to monitor and address trends in incarceration and releases.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the path ahead is challenging, but our resolve is firm. These proposals represent a holistic approach to a complex problem. They reflect our commitment to a justice system that is not only efficient and equitable but also humane and respectful of the rights and dignity of every Filipino,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez commended the summit as a testament to the collective resolve of the government under the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to confront the challenge of jail congestion.
“The collaboration under the auspices of the Justice Sector Coordinating Council, which includes the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, is commendable. This partnership symbolizes a unified approach in dealing with complex challenges while respecting the autonomy of each institution,” the Speaker said.
“Your expertise, dedication, and commitment are the driving forces behind this critical initiative. Together, let us forge a path towards a justice system that upholds the dignity of every individual and delivers justice with both efficiency and compassion,” he added.