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Behind Bars, the Rich and the Poor

If we are to look at the Philippine government record of the present and past years in approving and ratifying international conventions, especially those concerning the rights of the child, we will be greatly edified. There is almost 100% ratification but what appears on the gilded document in the halls of the United Nations and on the streets and jails of our cities and towns is very different indeed.

The gilded paper of ratified conventions is to polish the image of political leaders before the international community but their deeds on the ground in the Philippines are very different. Inside the prisons for children and teenagers, the youngsters live in dread of cruel beatings, torture, some are forced to drink prisoners' phlegm, and all are dished up slop not fit for pigs while the rich and wealthy convicted child rapist, former congressman Romeo Jalosjos, friend of the national leadership, lives in decadent luxury in air conditioned private quarters pampered and pleased with the satisfaction of his every whim and whatever money can buy.

The nation was agape when he claimed that his presidential pardon and commutation of sentence given by President Macapagal-Arroyo entitled him to be freed by Christmas. He and his personal escorts drove out of the penitentiary to the airport and he boarded a private jet to fly home to Zamboanga City where he was welcomed by crowds of political supporters and worshipped like a movie star.

That's how political child rapists are held in high esteem there. But the outcry and righteous anger of the general public was immediate and loud. The government saw a political backlash and immediately threw water on the flames and ordered him arrested. It took two weeks of legal battling for him to be returned to the national penitentiary.

There he is now back in his luxury tree shaded bungalow with tennis court inside the penitentiary while the impoverished inmates nearby in overcrowded cells wallow in hunger and live in rags.

Over in Bicutan, inside the military camp is a blue painted four-story prison building. Inside there is no luxury and despite the clean looking picture painted 20 foot high walls it is living hell of fear, deprivation and abuse.

Michael, 15 year old, is a grade 4 school drop out. His father is detained for murder in Caloocan City jail, Metro Manila. Michael is the third child in a family of five. He stole a necklace worth three thousand pesos (US$70) to bring food to his family. He was arrested, punched and imprisoned with adults. Weeks later, he was transferred from Caloocan Police cells to Cradle, the Center for Restorative
Activities Development and Learning Experiences (Cradle) in Camp Bagong Diwa at Bicutan, South of Metro Manila. What a learning experience he had, typical of many that we learned about when we interviewed many former inmates of Cradle.

Instead of getting a new vision of life and a hope for a good future, he was welcomed by "Calatis", one of the guards at Cradle, with a curse and blow to the chest ..."Welcome back". It was his second time there. He was so brutalized, the first time he was incarcerated in Cradle, he had no trust or interest in changing.

"Pacundo" another guard punished the teenagers in the cells and forced them to drink the phlegm of other inmates. (The guards' real identities are concealed from the teenage prisoners so they don't know who abused and brutalized them).

"Tatay Lobo" was a guard that Michael said delivered routine punches to his body or whacked the teenagers with a thick stick. These beatings are commonly known as "takal". Michael was kicked awake by the guard and made to crawl the whole length of the 2nd floor of the prison like a cockroach for the amusement of the guards. Another time he was forced to hang from a bar while the guard beat his feet with a stick. Other abusive guards he only knew by the names "Mendez" and Toledo.

The inmates are only allowed out of the cells to play basketball on Saturdays and only the big boys or favorites of the guards are allowed to play. The rest of the time, the minors are locked in their cells and have occasional activities when charity workers visit. (To be continued...)

CORRECTION: In the last article on the ICC there was an error. Charles Taylor is the former president of Liberia, not neighbouring Ivory Coast. He's being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (normally based in Freetown but for this case, using the facilities of the ICC in The Hague).

Contact Fr. Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines.
PREDA Information Office
PREDA Foundation, Inc.