• Send page
  • Print page

Philippines: protecting life and dignity in places of detention

03-02-2010 Operational Update

The ICRC has been working with national authorities to address the causes of overcrowding in prisons and jails and its effect on inmates' living conditions and health. This is an update on these and other ICRC activities carried out in the Philippines in January 2010.

An ICRC engineer sets up a water bladder to provide clean water to displaced people.    
Marikina City. This child who, like thousands of people, fled floods brought on by tropical storm Ondoy, benefits from clean drinking water supplied by the ICRC.    
A woman and her children in an IDP camp in Central Mindanao. The ICRC works to protect civilians displaced by armed conflict.    
  Improving conditions of detention  

" Detention visits are the backbone of our operations in the Philippines, a country which has experienced decades of internal armed conflicts, " said Jean-Daniel Tauxe, the ICRC's head of delegation in Manila. " We have seen that the overcrowding of jails and prisons has serious consequences on detainees'living conditions and health. Our usual practice of recommending improvements and providing technical support to the detaining authorities was not enough, so we developed a new, complementary strategy. In partnership with government officials and national agencies, we are planning and implementing changes for the benefit of all detainees. "

Throughout 2009, the ICRC carried out 234 visits to over 66,000 detainees held in 139 places of detention. Together with the Philippine National Red Cross, the ICRC facilitated family visits for 312 inmates held far from their homes.

Access to safe water, sanitation, health care and acceptable living conditions is a major problem in overcrowded detention facilities. Last year, the ICRC:

  • carried out renovation projects benefiting more than 11,000 inmates in 22 jails;

  • supplied medical items and equipment to seven prison infirmaries and provided over 120 detainees needing immediate access to health care with the help they required;

  • provided instruction for over 60 people in internationally recognized standards relating to water, sanitation, hygiene and living conditions generally in jails;

  • assisted almost 2,000 detainees in four prisons affected by flooding in the aftermath of tropical storm Ondoy.

Another serious concern in overcrowded detention facilities is the spread of tuberculosis (TB). " Worldwide, tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of illness and death among inmates, and this is particularly true in countries with a high TB prevalence, " said Dr Robert Paterson, an ICRC health coordinator. Overcrowding, an unhealthy manner of living and insufficient ventilation are among the factors that spread the disease among inmates. " You cannot keep TB behind bars: it readily escapes to affect the wider community, so controlling TB in jails is fundamental to protecting the general population against the illness. "

Concerns about the spread of TB have prompted the ICRC to help implement the national tuberculosis programme, involving 30,000 inmates in seven pilot jails and prisons, in cooperation with the national agencies concerned and the World Health Organization.

Legal and procedural problems, which delay the processing of cases, are the root cause of overcrowding. Bringing together those who can address these issues is essential to finding durable solutions. A pilot project guided by this principle took place in Manila City Jail at the end of 2009. Representatives of the various agencies involved in processing inmates'files reviewed the most urgent cases, identified hurdles within the criminal justice system and provided means of overcoming them. As a result, a backlog of 250 cases was cleared. The strategy will expand to other jails in 2010.

The results of several initiatives addressing various aspects of jail congestion as well as suggestions for the future will be discussed at a national conference due to take place in Manila in March. Representatives of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Bureau of Correct ions, the Supreme Court, the Department of Health and other national agencies will be attending.

  Humanitarian situation  

Active hostilities have been suspended since July 2009 in Central Mindanao, where about 100,000 people who fled their homes in August 2008 nevertheless remain displaced and still rely on aid provided on a regular basis by various agencies, including the ICRC and the Philippine Red Cross. The ICRC welcomes peace talks and other initiatives that may enable civilians to resume their normal lives. The prospects remain unclear, however.

Campaigning for presidential elections, set for May 2010, has gathered momentum against a backdrop of political instability. Assassinations, allegedly related to elections and culminating in the horrendous killing of 57 people in Central Mindanao, have triggered massive protests among Filipinos and the international community.

Acts of banditry and cases of kidnapping for ransom are common occurrences in the southern Philippines. In Sulu, which remains off limits for ICRC staff for security reasons, ICRC aid for people displaced by armed violence is channelled through local representatives of the Philippine Red Cross.

Frequent armed clashes between government forces and the New People's Army in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao are having an impact on the livelihoods of civilians and often limiting their access to basic services.

" Our staff regularly visit conflict-affected areas all over the Philippines, including remote villages where problems are often acute, " said ICRC delegate Valerie Houetz. " We seek dialogue with all parties to conflict, to remind them that civilians and those no longer fighting are protected under international humanitarian law and must be spared. "

Because t he risk of typhoons and other natural disasters is high in the Philippines, the ICRC is helping the Philippine Red Cross to build up its capacity to respond. The Philippine Red Cross deployed trained volunteers in response to tropical storm Ondoy and together with the ICRC provided safe drinking water and proper sanitation for over 18,000 people.

The ICRC also donates vehicles, first-aid kits and other equipment to some local Red Cross chapters to strengthen their capacity to respond to conflict-related incidents. In addition, it organizes training in first aid, emergency response and assessment and planning.

  Helping displaced and resident communities  

In 2009, the ICRC:

  • distributed nearly 4,600 metric tonnes of rice, 1.1 million litres of oil and other items together with the Philippines Red Cross. It provided over 8,000 essential household items such as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets and hygiene kits for displaced families, including those affected by armed violence in Sulu and tropical storm Ondoy;

  • improved access to water and sanitation for 30,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and residents in six major evacuation areas in Central Mindanao. In the Visayas, the ICRC improved access to water and sanitation for 5,000 people living in remote areas of Negros and Samar;

  • renovated six primary health-care centres in Central Mindanao, where over 30,000 people went for consultations, and kept them supplied with regular donations of drugs and medical consumables. The ICRC also provided medicines, surgical materials and other essential items for 10 hospitals throughout Mindanao. It offered individual support to over 220 particularly vulnerable patients to ensure that they had access to adequate care;

  • carried out a hygiene promotion campaign in cooperation with the Philippines Red Cross in 18 evacuation centres to encourage people to adopt safe hygiene practices.

" When we arrived at the evacuation centre, we had to rely on the river for all of our hygiene needs – washing, brushing teeth, and even as a comfort room, " said Bembo Alamasa, who, together with her husband and six children, has been displaced since August 2008. " There had been no problem in our small village, but in a huge evacuation centre one can get sick. Now I know how to teach my children to wash hands, keep water clean and maintain proper hygiene, and we will do so even at home. "

  Promoting international humanitarian law  

The ICRC has been supporting the authorities in their efforts to promote international humanitarian law.

In a major breakthrough, the Philippine government signed Republic Act No. 9851, the " Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, " into law in December.

Representatives of military training institutions from South-East Asia expanded their knowledge of international humanitarian law by taking part in a regional workshop, hosted in December by the Philippine Military Academy, which brought together 26 participants from 11 countries.

Sixteen teams from leading law schools in the Philippines took part in a moot-court competition on international humanitarian law; the winner will represent the country at a regional competition in Hong Kong in March.

  For further information, please contact:
  Anastasia Isyuk, ICRC Manila, tel: +63 918 907 21 25
  Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26