PHILIPPINES: An interview: Surviving in rotten prison, justice system

While a researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) were conducting random interviews on the case of the Abadilla Five, a short comment from a father, Victoriano Galang, which we have published in our previous press release, caught our attention. His son, Hernani, like that of the Abadilla five, remains in jail for several years now without any sign the court would conclude his case or would have substantial progress anytime soon. Not only did the said respondent was the researcher’s uncle, the detainee, too, is her first cousin.

Her cousin, Hernani Galang, has since been in jail for the last three years over charges of allegedly possessing illegal drugs. The illegal drugs the police recovered from the jacket he was wearing when he was arrested was actually not owned by him, but that of his friend who had let him used his jacket. He was an ordinary person who was never been involved in criminal activity and his family has no unlikely background. Though the police’s evidence to prosecute him in court was weak, the frequent absence of the judge hearing the case, rescheduling of the hearing, failure of witnesses and complainants to appear in court, amongst others, unnecessary delays the conclusion of his case.

Now Hernani, who is presently detained in southern Philippines, like any other detainees waiting for the conclusion of their trial, had have to endure the terrible condition inside the prison. His father, too, have had to struggle supporting the costly legal expenses, his son’s needs inside the jail because the jail authorities are unable to provide them, and have had endure the emotional and psychological suffering; and prejudice from the society. “Detainees are already considered criminal even before they are convicted by law and society,” as he describes it.

The AHRC is publishing these interviews originally from Tagalog translated into English made from Hernani and his father, Victoriano. This is to at least provide deeper insight not only to Hernani’s suffering, but also to other detainees in the country who are awaiting conclusion of their case. These stories depicts how those could have been innocent persons are forced to survived; how their family struggles in ensuring their welfare when the authorities fails in doing so. These are actually fraction of stories to the stark reality of the state of prison condition and administration of justice there;

A detainee’s story in surviving prison

“All prisoners whether they have committed a crime or not are pitiful. Inside the jail, life is difficult. You can’t eat adequate food and we are treated as animals. Sometimes when we are given food rations, the rice that they serve smells spoiled and then the dish is limited. Since I was detained here from PDEA [Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency-Davao City], they serve us the same food over and over again. In the morning, small dried fish; in the afternoon, small and thin slices of fried fish; in the evening, vegetable soup similar to those being fed to pigs. It has no taste at all. We could only eat delicious food or fried chicken during Christmas time, that’s all.

If you fell sick here, no one would mind. Even if you have fever the jail guards won’t give you medicine. You’ll just wait until when you have visitors only then you can air you grievances.

Once there was a riot here. Someone was beaten by several detainees. He was an elderly person and old already. We thought he was dead because he was just lying down at the basketball court. The jail guards never mind him at all. It happens in the morning. He was exposed to scorching sunlight, drenched with rain, he was still there lying. He was still alive though. He was only taken out from where he was lying afternoon the following day and was sent back to his detention cell. I don’t understand why jail guards never bother at all. 

When one of us has visitors other inmates would look on. Most of those detained here didn’t have any visitors for several years already. They were seemed to have been forgotten by their families. For example, if I’m the one who has visitors, they would check on what the visitor brought for me then they would asked for it – like bath soap, toothpaste, anything else. Some of us here could not even take a bath because they don’t have bath soap with them. Only when they are visited that they could buy bath soap at other things they want to buy.

Here inside it’s also frightening. One of my fellow inmates has not been visited and he was often angry. One time, one detainee who was frequently walking inside the detention cell was grabbed and mauled by another irritated inmate without any reasons at all. They seem to have gone crazy of frequently thinking of their situation inside the jail. That is why if I have visitor, I’m happy because I could speak to another person. Here inside, it seems I’ve already heard all kind of stories that we have already discussed. I want to have visitor so that I would also hear news from outside.

Many of us here have already fallen sick because of the dirt and extremely foul odour from our toilet. Even if there was no rain, still the excreta from the bowl overflow. The stinky odour could be smell inside our cell. If it is an inmate’s turn to clean the toilet since we schedules for cleaning, some opted to pay others instead to do the cleaning. Those who have money they pay to avoid cleaning. It was really stinky. You need to dip the bowl overflowing with excreta with a bucket then you throw them up above the toilet’s ventilation. Since the elevation of the vent was high, you would be lucky if you won’t have a drop of it. Water is also scarce. You can’t take a bath as you wanted.

Every three months we were transferred to other cells. They reshuffle us to avoid someone who may have plan to escape from escaping as it could happen when all detainees are held altogether in one cell for a long time.

I believed that there are still others who may have suffered worst and inhuman that us here. For instance, the detention centers in Manila. That is why like those you have seen in movies, they are killing each other, it could happen.

I know that my mother and father are following up my case. I have already accepted upon myself that I may have to stay here. My lawyer promised to me before I was detained here that he would let me out within three months. Until now, I have been here for three years, nothing happens to my case. I already lost hope.

The administration of justice in our country is too slow. One of the reasons of the delay is also the frequent re-scheduling of hearing, then, once it is fixed, the complainant would not appear in court. It seems they did it intentionally.”

-Hernani Galang, 29 years old, detainee, Davao del Sur

A father’s testimony to a son’s plight

“The judicial delays here in the Philippines might have no solution. It’s still the same since I was in college. Someone should push for the changing of the judicial system here.

Some judges do not appear in court that’s why hearings are re-scheduled. Based on our experience, it will take three to four months before the respondent (like his son) will be called again for court appearance.

We already accepted that it will take how many years before the court can bring down its decision for my son’s (Hernani) case. But we do not lose hope that my son will be released from prison. Our lawyer said the evidence of the police is weak. Police are not consistent with their answers during hearings; some of them even have hard time saying words they want to say.

Police also have not been able to present to court their evidences against my son. They cannot use my son’s cell phone as their evidence because they could not find any message in it regarding the drugs they allegedly recovered inside my son’s jacket. They also cannot bring the motorcycle in court, maybe it is already damaged because police used it as their service when my son was still at the PDEA. They said it was being impounded, but I saw it being used by one of the police when I visited my son.

My son has lost weight since he was detained. It is not about physical problems, but it is also emotional. He even told me he wanted to be ill so he can be brought to the hospital and be somehow out of the prison for a while, but he also never wanted the idea as he will be the one to suffer. He just makes himself strong emotionally so he will not go insane. That’s why he really eats even if their food is like dog food. When we visit him, we bring him canned goods, vegetables, fruits, and money. 

We only visit him three or four times a month because we also have no money. We really want that when we go there and visit him, we have enough money so we can give him whatever he needs. It is hard on our part knowing that we cannot give what he needs. My son told me that it is just okay with him if we do not have something for him when we visit; he even said that it is enough for him if we just go there so he can see us, but it’s also hard, we also need the fare, and sometimes we really don’t have money.

Their situation inside the prison is pitiful. There’s one detainee who was suspected for stealing a water buffalo, he was jailed for several years, he was old and his family already failed to visit him. One time, the old man asked a favour to the visitor of his fellow inmate if the latter could send the letter he made for his family, the visitor refused and did not accept the letter. That is what is not good about it, when you’re really innocent of a crime and you are jailed, you are still treated as criminal and everyone fears you.

As of now, my son’s case is ongoing. We never stopped seeing our lawyer. Our lawyer is now preparing a letter so we could already retrieve my son’s motorcycle and the other evidences which police failed to use.

Abadilla Five has a strong opponent. Cases like that are not new anymore, there are still a lot of cases like that we do not know, and other suspects might have died inside the prison without justice.

It is disheartening on the part of the suspects’ family because they cannot do something about it. The family of the suspects should aggressively appeal so that the case will be opened.”

-Victoriano Galang, 56 years old, self-employed, General Santos City


Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-191-2008
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5