07/07/2006, 00.00
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Church: "Death penalty is gone; now let's improve life in prison"

The Filipino Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care will hold a meeting for prison chaplains and volunteers at work in prisons to come up with a shared vision about pastoral ministry behind bars, and to consider challenges as well as possible solutions to the diverse problems of the national prison system.

Manila (AsiaNews/CBCP) - After recently claiming victory in the abolition of the death penalty law, the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC) said it plans to reinvigorate its campaign to solve the country's problem-laden prison system.

Some 150 chaplains and volunteers from South Luzon will gather in Lucena City on July 28-30 to examine the country's justice system, particularly its restorative aspect.

The organisers said they hoped the assembly would result in the adoption of a more systematic and significant shared approach to prison ministry, thus enhancing their efficiency in helping the inmates. The Commission's Executive Secretary, Rodulfo Diamante, said the conference "is intended to give prison chaplains and volunteers a more focused venue to tackle problems affecting jails in their respective areas. It aims to come up with concrete and workable action plans, which hopes to redound to the benefit of the members of the prison community."

The theme of the meeting is "Restoring Dignity... Healing Hurts... Building Community", the same as a meeting held on 27 April, which was attended by about 100 chaplains.

The prison system in the Philippines has been plagued with problems that include juvenile prisoners who are lumped in the same cells with hardened criminals and are thus exposed to abuse.

Prisons in the Philippines are very overcrowded: in Manila, a prison built to hold 800 detainees has more than 5,000. The prison in Quezon City is meant to cater for 815 people, but its population has reached nearly 3,500 inmates.

This means each detainee has less than 0.3 square metres of space compared to three square metres per detainee stipulated by the United Nations. Detainees die of tuberculosis, chickenpox and other simple diseases that spread rapidly. Many prisoners die before their trial.

The CBCP maintains that prison inmates are among the poorest of the poor and so they deserve the attention of the church. The Commission has been at work in prisons for years with a service manned by volunteers aimed at rehabilitating detainees, especially youth.

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