Christmas Behind Bars — A Philippine Carol

While the rest of the Philippines celebrate the upcoming Christmas shindigs, there are but a few who, by no fault of their own, are forced to give reverence to the birth of Jesus Christ through steel, and metal bars.

As most Filipinos would know, Christmas in the Philippines starts the moment the -ber months kick in. Discounts on all the shopping malls start coming out, employees start computing their 13th month pay, travel websites are clogged with insane web traffic, and almost every street in the country is illuminated with colourful Parols that line up each and every avenue.

Sometimes dreaming is the only viable escape

Christmas for Filipinos is more than an excuse to see loved ones, exchange gifts, and celebrate the birth of Christ (us being a Catholic country). Christmas for us, intrinsically, is a collective understanding, that no matter how bad the year was, were always going to end it as if it was the best year ever. Psyching ourselves up for the inevitable screw up the new year may bring (you can call us a happy people, but generations of suffering has hardened us to be quite the pessimist).

BJMP Jails are riddled with ‘No Read No Write’ Inmates

However, not most Filipinos feel this way. Thanks to the efforts of our current administration, more and more people are set to spend their holidays behind bars, and away from their loved ones. We’re not even talking about the convicted felons, were talking about detained inmates, still waiting for a hearing date, languishing in any of the hundreds of detention centers within the country.

Granted rule of law will always apply. And yes, some, not all, opted to go beyond the law, and thus have found themselves in their current situation. What I want to give emphasis on are the ones who after months, and even years, still cannot set an appointment even for a simple arraignment.

In one detention centre alone a group of detainees, are not only are treated as convicted criminals, but haven’t even been arraigned yet: they’ve been here since October 1, 2015, and would be spending their 2nd Christmas behind bars in a few days.

Stories like these are rampant in the Philippines Justice System where money talks, and power corrupts absolutely.

Can you imagine a Noche Buena of rice, crackers, Gatorade, and vegetables from questionable sources? In Philippine detention, you don’t need to. It’s already the norm.

These are people who have standing cases against them either in the Regional Trial Court.

I’m not even talking about those who are illegally detained. That’s a totally different monster altogether.

I have a client who’s only mistake was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s been 6 months now and he still hasn’t been arraigned. Upon further investigation, RTC files for Christmas break and resumes on February 1 (January being a month of inventory).

Other clients have languished in detention for over 3 years now. And when asked why, “Well, were trying to build a case against you. So you’ll remain here.” Happy Holidays indeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time we revamped our Philippine Penitentiary System. We need to reform it from the ground up. It’ll be an uphill battle, but a battle I will not hesitate to participate in as part of my civic duty. We all know the brouhaha about Kerwin Espinosa, Sen. Leila De Lima, and the like. I’m not talking about them. They made their bed, and they should lie in it. I’m talking about the rest of the Philippine jail population who’s never even been represented by any person of law, let alone know what the definition of “bail” is.

Folks, justice is blind. We are all innocent until proven guilty. That’s the main Tennant of justice that assures every man, woman, child his right to freedom. However, the Philippines seem to be operating on a totally different philosophy: Justice Delayed, is Justice Denied.

I love the Philippines, and I refuse to see it crumble from within because of apathy. The revolution must start now. The revolution must start within all of us. Long live justice, long live the Philippines.

#FairJustice #DraconianLaws

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