There are many fabulous places in the Philippines to retire, live and enjoy life. A Philippine jail or a Philippine prison is not one of them! Not even for a single night! This article is my first installment in a series about Philippine Prisons. I want to be perfectly clear, I am in no way bashing or belittling the Philippine Bureau of Corrections or the Philippine Department of Justice. They know there are problems to be corrected. Not all Correctional Officers in the Philippines are corrupt, as I know a few of them and they take their jobs seriously. Until you walk the line among dangerous inmates as a Corrections Officer, outnumbered more than 10 to 1 at times, you will never know the feeling.
Many times, Americans specifically are especially naive about the might and power of the USA. One American was being held and he personally told me if he is not released from jail soon, a small unit of US Marines will arrive and arrange for his release. What is sad, he really believed it!
Many locals interchange the terms jail and prison but unlike in the USA, both corrections institutions in the Philippines can be long term, and I am referring to years. While in the Philippines, expats are also subject to Philippine Law and regulations, which will often differ from back in their own countries.Ignorance of a law is never an acceptable defense in a court of law!
While some of the expats in the Bacolod Area can be obnoxious and overbearing, their arrests are not in the news as often as in the large cities of Manila, Cebu and Davao. Last year in Bacolod, one American was arrested for physical abuse of his wife but his charge was compounded when he physical attacked one of the PNP officers who was intervening. Last year, in Murcia, near Bacolod, a Dutch National and his Filipina wife were arrested for operating a cybersex den in their home, with all the models being underage Filipinas. Yes, they will be locked up for quite a while! There are a number of similar cases all around the Philippines and some of the foreigners have been locked up for five years or longer before their trial is completed or even begins.
Hell Behind The Bars
Just because people are in prison, they do not become model citizens while locked up! Murder, rape, extortion, theft, physical violence, blackmail and all the other crimes committed out on the streets are also committed in Philippine jails and prisons. The same thing happens in the USA as well and I know! I was a Corrections Officer and a Corrections Officer Sgt for almost 5 years in Florida. A foreigner being incarcerated in the Philippines has vast differences than being locked up in the USA and in other developed countries. A speedy trial in the Philippines could mean 5 years! Yes, there is a logjam in the Justice System.
The correctional institutions in the Philippines are overcrowded with inmates and they far outnumber the Corrections Officers on every shift. In open population, the foreign prisoner is a minority, of course. “You are not going to eat that are you?” Without waiting for an an answer, the inmate takes the food of others through intimidation. Reporting other inmates to prison authorities may well be the same as signing your own death warrant behind the fence! Informants among inmates are going to be killed and their tongues cut out when discovered by other inmates. Some foreigners may be placed in protective management for their protection but this means restrictions and confinement alone in a cell.
With A Little Help From My Friends
Many Americans are shocked when they learn how little authority the US State Department has concerning incarcerated citizens. The US Embassy and US Consulate staff will monitor conditions in the Philippine jails and prisons and they will protest allegations of abuse of American prisoners. The State Department will not provide you with an attorney and they do not normally intervene in your case to lessen the punishment, although I know of one case when they successfully did. The American was mentally ill and needed treatment, not jail time. The Philippine Authorities released him from jail to his family, who took him home on the next plane out!
The State Department staff will regularly visit, monitor the legal case in the Philippine Judicial System, give a list of local attorneys, provide vitamins and minerals if necessary and arrange for medical and dental care if required, with the American prisoner's own funds or funds sent by their family. For destitute American prisoners, there may be funds for a loan by the US Government, known as Emergency Medical/Dietary Assistance program.
Your Best Friend Behind The Fence
Without a doubt, your best friend in a Philippine prison is your US Dollars! If you have the money, you can have a much more comfortable life in prison, buying luxuries other prisoners can never afford. However, this practice has come under fire of late by the DOJ, concerning special treatment for foreign and high profile prisoners. Still, things can be done less openly and there are also “fixers” in Philippine correctional institutions. Jack Daniels and Jim Beam can also be your friends from time to time! For about $500 USD per bottle.
Without money, you are S.O.L., Sortta Outta Luck! Money is power around the world and often, those without money are powerless.
The Bitter End
Since a number of foreign prisoners in Philippine jails and prisons are senior citizens, some are just sitting around, waiting around to die, without hope of being released. Their years are already numbered!
The Philippine Inquirer published a story a couple of years ago on their Global Nation, warning foreigners about the poor conditions of the Bureau of Corrections facilities, especially when compared to prisons and jails back home. From what I have personally seen, they can be compared to prisons in the USA about 40 years ago, in some instances. The reality is, this is the Philippines and not the USA, UK, Australia, Canada or other more developed countries. The Philippines is getting there but best to remember, the current Philippine Constitution was only ratified in 1987, so it is highly unfair comparing them to countries that have been developed for centuries!
In my next article in this series, I will write about the promised changes in the Philippine Bureau of Corrections. Some are already underway, however, none of these changes are geared toward foreign prisoners! Although they will ultimately benefit from the changes.