'Hope' and 'love' in Manila’s overcrowded jails
The prison congestion rate is 583 per cent, the highest in the world. Priests, nuns and lay people provide psychological, spiritual and religious assistance to prisoners. For one volunteer, “Let the light of Christ shine on them through us”.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Priests, nuns, and lay Catholics bring "hope" and "love" to inmates in the Philippines’ overcrowded prisons through their pastoral ministry.
"It is a great joy to see that our brethren behind the bars, who are suffering a lot, still have hope in God,” said Elizabeth Cruz, a lay volunteer at the Pasay prison, who spoke to AsiaNews.
“We pray that our God of Justice and Mercy may bless us as we all work for the kind of justice that heals and reforms rather than the one that demeans the dignity of the human person,"
Along with priests and nuns, Elisabeth Cruz has dedicated herself in the past five years to activities and programmes that provide psychological, spiritual and religious support to prisoners.
"They [prisoners] need our prayers, support and care. They are looking for a source of consolation, hope and inspiration in God," Cruz added.
At present, the Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-ECPPC) is holding the 30th Prison Awareness Week for 23-29 October, titled ‘Your Love is my Light and my Salvation’ (picture 2).
Through this initiative, the CBCP-ECPPC hopes to send the message that through God’s love and the faithful’s care, offenders and those deprived of their liberty can be rehabilitated. Given another chance at life, they can become productive members of society.
The Commission welcomes the recent move by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to improve the plight of prisoners.
The CBCP-ECPPC praised him for visiting the Metro Manila District Jail in Bicutan and for his informal talk with some of the prisoners during which he promised them some recreational equipment [TVs, electric fans, etc.] that can somehow relieve their misery during their detention.
Filipino bishops urge the government to consider making reforms of the criminal justice system a top priority and explore other ways of dispensing justice other than through incarceration.
The CBCP-ECPPC has also planned various activities by volunteers in the prisons in the country’s dioceses.
"Let us get to know the plights of the members of the prison community and work for their welfare. Let the light of Christ shine on them through us," said Cruz.
Meanwhile, media reports note that conditions in many of the country’s overcrowded prisons are squalid, even inhumane.
The Quezon City Jail (picture 1), which was built to house about 800 inmates, is currently holding more than 2,700 people in almost every corner of the facility.
At a forum on 1st July, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) admitted that the country's jails are now the world's most congested.
From 98,000 inmates a year ago, there are now about 142,000 inmates crammed in only 466 jails, representing a 583 per cent congestion rate, which is worse than in Haiti (454 per cent), according to a study by the University of London of 2016.
BJMP chief Serafin Barreto said that by the end of 2017, the country’s prison population might reach 200,000, ten times what the country's jail facilities can support.
Mr Barreto also noted that prisons are undermanned, with only11,000 agents currently serving, when in fact an additional 83,000 would be needed.