Philippine officials meet UNODC to press prison reforms

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Manila (Philippines), 28 January 2022—Government officials from the Philippines virtually sat down with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Australian Government to discuss pressing matters on the implementation of prison reforms.

Through the Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), officials tackled the continuous implementation of the project Strengthening the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules in the Philippines and in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic or the Prisons PVE Project.

Australian Embassy’s Political Counsellor James Yeomans expressed the commitment of the Australian government to help foster greater cooperation with the Philippines in line with the Prisons PVE project.

“We’re pleased to work with all our partners in sharing skills, knowledge, and resources to better achieve security outcomes,” Yeomans said.

UNODC Senior Policy Advisor Olivier Lermet added that countering violent extremism in prisons is best achieved by addressing the general conditions faced by the PDLs such as jail overcrowding, prison understaffing, and limited provision of basic services, among others.

Lermet also emphasized the need to uphold a human rights-based approach in the management of prisons in line with the UN Joint Programme on technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, noting how government and the UN could “work together for a transparent and accountable governance and improve conditions for peace and security.”

Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Atty. Deo Marco presided the committee meeting attended by officials from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), Parole and Probation Administration (PPA), Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), UNODC, and the Australian Government. He steered the discussion on the updates and initiatives of implementing agencies, with a view to harmonize agency efforts.

BuCor Corrections Technical Inspector (CTINSP) Lariza Martin detailed the agency’s efforts in identifying instances of radicalization from charismatic leaders and in continuously capacitating inmates through various rehabilitation and after-care programs.

Meanwhile, the BJMP shared the successful integration of the UNODC Nelson Mandela Rules module in their staff onboarding process. A total of 14,969 or 80% of jail officers benefitted from said e-learning course. The bureau also ensures linkages with community centers in local government units (LGUs) and with the Department of Health (DOH) in the provision of health services in light of the pandemic, and is rolling out the single carpeta system, which promotes a harmonized and full digitization of data for better prison management.

The Nelson Mandela Rules, an updated Guide for Prison Management, UNODC 2016
The Nelson Mandela Rules, an updated Guide for Prison Management, UNODC 2016

This digitization of PDL records is important, as BPP Chairman Sergio Calizo emphasized.  Calizo mentioned that they have the capacity to review around 600 – 1000 cases (for parole or executive clemency) every month to help in the decongestion of jails but the lack of interactive and harmonized digital files slows it down. He underlined the importance of better coordination with the BuCor and BJMP through the single carpeta system.

Related to this, PPA-Cordillera Administrative Region Assistant Regional Director Janette Padua pushed for the establishment of a unified referral system based on a comprehensive risk-need assessment & responsibility tool which could help in better assessing profiles and risks associated to parole applicants.

For the interior and local government sectors, the DILG highlighted its sustained efforts to engage with LGUs in the localization of the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) National Action Plan. Said localization efforts include capacity building for around 12,000 barangays in 2021 and maximizing collaboration with 26 civil society organizations (CSOs) in target areas including the BARMM.

The UNODC presented the action plan and proposed activities of the committee, which include the conduct of synergy meetings and high-level conferences, creating mechanisms for compliance and prison oversight through monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mentorships in relation to the Nelson Mandela rules, and developing a handbook on the common conduct for jail officials covering the management of violent extremist prisoners (VEPs), to mention a few.

UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer Naoki Sugano commended the efforts of the JCC, emphasizing that “the launch of the joint committee marks an important step forward in our collective journey and this multifaceted effort is not only for addressing management of violent extremist offenders but also for a society-wide reintegration effort during the time and beyond the challenges of the pandemic.”

To be convened quarterly, the Joint Coordination Committee sets the motion for a more harmonized implementation of Prisons PVE Project towards a more humane prison systems in the Philippines.