Those VIP detention joints


The last we heard from Senator Bong Revilla’s family, following that drawn-out surrender drama, was that he needs an air cooler for his special cell — more a studio — in the Philippine National Police custodial center. His wife, Rep. Lani Mercado, says the heat gives him migraine.

Revilla's detention studio at the PNP custodial center. Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
Revilla’s detention studio at the PNP custodial center. Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
Supporters clog the Revilla clan compound in Bacoor, Cavite in a sign of support for Sen. Bong Revilla. Photo from Yahoo.com
Supporters clog the Revilla clan compound in Bacoor, Cavite in a sign of support for Sen. Bong Revilla. Photo from Yahoo.com

Revilla’s new flat may be well below the standards of the clan’s sprawling Cavite homes. But as TV news footage shows, it’s comfortable enough.

An outcry soon followed, with memes spreading on social media.

One compared the cells renovated for Revilla and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile — all three charged with the non-bailable crime of plunder — with the bunkhouses for Yolanda survivors. The meme’s subtext is, that Revilla and company are accused of heinous crimes while Yolanda folk’s only crime is that of existence.

Previous news reports, quoting government agencies, have shown the Yolanda bunkhomes to be of substandard stuff. This news video also reports an old man dying from heat stroke and children falling ill. His widow notes the stifling heat. Electricity use is only for light. And only last night, I chatted with two young women whose families live in these facilities. They told me the drainage in their makeshift communities is of the same bad standard, causing unhealthy flooding during heavy rains.

The administration’s staunchest supporters complain that the memes are meant to draw attention to perceived government slights rather than stress the issue of justice. In one report, a priest notes that the senators have not yet been convicted and “jail” is the wrong term to use.

Cells for senators vs cells for common criminals. From the Facebook page of Abdur Rashid Santos.
Cells for senators vs cells for common criminals. From the Facebook page of Abdur Rashid Santos.

The good priest will probably be interested in this second comparison shared by Bayan Patroller Abdur Rashid Santos.

It shows a holding cell where cops stuff people arrested for more minor crimes — theft, for example. It can be so crowded behind bars that detainees take turns sleeping. The toilet puts anyone at risk for tetanus.

The people penned in this space have also not been convicted. Many cannot afford lawyers nor bail. Some will rot in municipal and provincial jails while on trials that go on for years.

The good priest might also be interested in what Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno has to say about the country’s criminal justice system. The news article is headlined, “Too poor to post bail, thousands spend years in jail without conviction”.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno described as “dysfunctional” the current jail system in the Philippines, a system that forces inmates to take turns in sleeping inside cramped detention cells.

“While it is not yet a detainee’s turn, he will have to stand up while another one takes a nap… This in itself is condemnable, even before they are sentenced,” Sereno said during the public interviews of candidates for the Sandiganbayan’s presiding justice conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council on Thursday.

“For many of these prisoners, they have already accepted that a life in prison—while their cases are pending—are already their alternative lives. This is alarming to me,” she added.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas explains the studios are only temporary holding centers until the Sandiganbayan divisions tasked to hear the senator’s plunder cases decide on their custodial status. Earlier PNP statements claimed 1) the senators’ physical security must be safeguarded and 2) those nice joints were not constructed specially for them.

Still, anti-crime watchdogs and good governance advocates see the individual studios as a sign of VIP treatment. Len Dante Clarino’s petition on change.org has more than 8,300 signers sharing his call for the senators to be put in regular jails.

Some critics of the senators acknowledged that regular jails would be too dangerous for the three senators. (Most detention centers out of Camp Crame are overflowing with people too poor to afford jail and contrasting lifestyles may cause tempers to flare up, one lawyer told me.)

But the custodial center, which is much better guarded, also hosts political prisoners and other government officials, former PNP officers included, accused of graft and corruption. There is nothing in the facilities they now occupy that would make it dangerous or unduly uncomfortable for the three senators. And a transfer would free their quarters for the officers of the custodial center.

While everyone is agog about Revilla, who in the heat shares the experience of Yolanda survivors and millions of Mindanao residents who’ve braved the sweltering summer in the face of power failures that last as long as 12 hours, we may be forgetting Janet Lim-Napoles.

The alleged private sector top cat in the P10-billion pork scandal — only one of many — enjoys her privacy in Fort Sto. Domingo, far from the madding crowd. She is in a two-bedroom bungalow with a floor area of about 82 square meters. The compound is reportedly guarded by 300 Special Action forces.

It costs P5,000 a day to keep Napoles in detention. Police records peg the average overhead monthly cost for Napoles’ detention at P150,000.

In short, her daily upkeep is, per government statistics, enough to feed a family of five for a month. If a Metro Manila employee receives the minimum P466 daily wage and works without break from a month, he or she would receive P13,900 before taxes. The monthly expense for Napoles’ detention could underwrite 11 families with single breadwinner status.

That probably rankles most. After all, Napoles — who, let us not forget, received VIP escort service on her surrender — has pointed at everyone and his/her mother, without acknowledging any guilt. The government can well transfer her to Camp Crame, halve the number of people guarding her, and still keep her safe.

But that’s something Malacanang will shrug off. Today, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma told a press briefing:

“Ang sitwasyong ito ay nagpapakita lamang ng kahalagahan ng layuning magtatag ng isang lipunan na kung saan magiging tunay na pantay-pantay ang trato sa lahat ng mga mamamayan habang iginagalang ang kanilang mga karapatang pantao.”

(This situation shows just how much the government is trying to build a society where everyone is treated with equal respect for their rights.)

Coloma also tries to turn the tables on government’s critics, to the point of giving yet another insensitive analogy. (He is becoming an expert on this.)

“Ang paggamit ng pasilidad sa detensyon ay naayon sa batas bilang pagkilala sa prinsipyo ng makataong pagturing sa mga nasasakdal. Dapat bang dalhin at ipiit sila katulad ng mga bunkhouses at temporary shelters na ginagamit ng mga pamilyang naapektuhan ng ‘Yolanda’ at iba pang kalamidad? At kung gagawin naman ito ng pamahalaan, hindi kaya mamayagpag ang tuligsa na pinahihirapan ang mga ‘di kaalyado sa pulitika?”

(The use of the detention facilities are lawful and a display of just treatment for the accused. Should we bring them to a facility like the bunkhouses and temporary shelters used by survivors of Yolanda and other calamities? If the government does this, won’t we be accused of making things stuff for people who are not our political allies?)

That pretty much shows what they think of the bunkhouses. It’s good enough for survivors of calamities but the same standard can’t be used for the plunder guys.

Coloma misses the point. Very few people are asking the government to bend backwards for these senators. People are calling on the government to expand the probe into pork abuses beyond the opposition, and asking President Benigno Aquino to stem his penchant for clearing friends without the benefit of transparent investigation. To equate this with a pro-Tanda, Sexy, Pogi, Napoles sentiment shows they’re slip-sliding on their tuwid na daan.

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