The power of global advocacy has ignited an investigation by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) into the torture and abuse of young boys previously jailed behind bars in detention centers in the Philippines but freed by the legal and social action of the Preda Foundation. An advocacy appeal from Preda Ireland reached the Switzerland-based Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), a politically neutral and human rights organization that has consultative status with the United Nations and they brought the appeal to the attention of the Philippine CHR. This week, the investigators of the CHR with representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development began their interviews with the released victims of torture and abuse that are recovering and healing at the Preda Foundation Home for Boys.
In the Philippines, some mayors have youth detention facilities, others call them Bahay Pag-asa, where children in conflict with the law (CICL) and children-at-risk such as street children and child curfew breakers are incarcerated and suffer abuse and torture. The abuse goes on in secret. If the mayors don’t know or don’t care, we advise them to visit www.preda.org/gallery/jailed children.
As I have previously written this column revealed last 19 April 2010 in The Manila Times drawings made by child victims showing cruel and inhuman treatment, abuse, and torture in the cells of the youth detention facilities of cities in Metro Manila. What is done and allowed to be done to the children are systematic crimes against the Constitution and violate all Philippine child protection laws and international laws against torture and the abuse of children.
These laws are ignored and violated every day and night. The children now face the added threat of the coronavirus should one infected person come into the overcrowded detention cells. Most of the children have no contact with their parents or relatives. They are abandoned and if infected they will be isolated and left to die alone, unknown, and uncared for. Media reports indicate that the Covid-19 is already spreading in Philippines jails. The government says they have released hundreds of the children following the Preda Foundation campaign to release the children.
Many Bahay Pag-asa and youth detention facilities are places of abuse and are secret and closed to any outsiders. Even the CHR investigators have difficulty gaining access and the children inside are too terrified of retaliation by guards to tell their ordeal of torture.
Human rights advocates are barred from going inside to inspect the cells and see the inhuman conditions or interview the children. They are under the jurisdiction of the mayors but President Rodrigo Duterte and Secretary Ano of the Department of Interior and Local Government can hold the mayors accountable. The law states they should build proper homes for youth and children, instead they build jails. There are no regular inspections of and transparency in the Bahay Pag-asa. They are worse than animal cages and are hellholes of abuse, torture, and punishment. Photos of abusive conditions are found on www.preda.org
Most Bahay Pagasa are small, dirty jail cells with a filthy toilet. The youngest prisoner has to clean it when it is stuffed with human excrement and smells. There are no shower stalls but a faucet with bucket and pail. Overcrowding is common, as many as twenty or thirty boys or girls confined in small space. The infection of one will spread to all. The small children aged between 10 and 15 showed their drawings of systematic abuse to the CHR investigators and told their stories of torture. They showed what they endured in overcrowded cells, sleeping on hard concrete floors, and punished and tortured. They testify that they were beaten, clubbed, kicked, forced to stand in painful stress positions, hang on the steel bars of the cells, and were beaten with rubber slippers and sticks.
Many were attacked at night and held down by older prisoners and had toothpaste squeezed into their eyes. Others were sexually abused. During the day they were forced to the ground and covered with a sheet and beaten so they could not identify their attackers. Another was put in a steel drum and it was beaten so he suffered pain in his head and ears. Others showed how they were hung upside down by their feet.
Others reported in counseling being forced to do sex acts on older prisoners and were then sexually abused. Another said they were bullied and older prisoners masturbated on their faces at night when sleeping. They were shouted at with foul language and were always hungry having to eat expired, bad-smelling sardines, and fly-infested food. They said they felt isolated, lonely, had no visits by relatives, cannot exercise, and have no sunshine or entertainment of any kind. There is no stimulation or education in most of the cells. Some said a pastor came and read the Bible.
The authorities in command of the Bahay Pag-asa and detention facilities write glowing reports of a lovely life for the detainees and higher government authorities believe them without any verification. These places are hellholes of suffering and abuse for small children and must be closed. The law, Republic Act 9344, states that every highly urbanized city and province must have a high standard, DSWD-accredited home for children. What most provide is a shameful house of torture and terror for children. These sub-human conditions have been verified in the past by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) but change has not yet come. The abuse has to stop, it must be ended. The people responsible must be held accountable for child neglect and abuse.
We appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to get Secretary Ano to order the mayors to close the jail-like Bahay Pag-asa and other youth detention centres and build new homes. All the children are in danger of infection by the deadly coronavirus. Support our campaign to get the government to release the child prisoners. Write to the Secretary Ano of the Department of Interior and Local Government at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.