Decriminalize libel, abortion to help decongest Philippine prisons, DoJ tells lawmakers

Decriminalize libel, abortion to help decongest Philippine prisons, DoJ tells lawmakers

By Jomel R. Paguian

PHILIPPINE government prosecutors have asked lawmakers to decriminalize libel and abortion as part of state efforts to ease jail congestion.

“[This] is one of the things we are advocating for, but it is not our primary solution,” Department of Justice (DoJ) spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV told reporters on the sidelines of a jail decongestion summit in Manila on Wednesday.  “It is one of many.”

Decreasing jail admissions, reducing bail and expanding jail capacity have also been considered, he added.

Mr. Clavano said it is still up to Congress what to do. “It’s not up to us to decide. We will leave it up to them because they have a more holistic perspective.”

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez told the summit the House of Representatives is considering the decriminalization of libel and abortion as part of a plan to review the Revised Penal Code. “The Revised Penal Code’s classification system, almost a century old, needs an overhaul,” he said in a speech.

Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri told reporters the Senate would thoroughly study the merits of the proposal. About abortion, he said: “For me, all life is sacred at any moment of conception.”

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said jail decongestion should not focus on the crimes of libel and abortion as a solution. Arrests and detentions have increased significantly due to the government’s deadly war on drugs and anti-insurgency program, it added.

“Perhaps the government could look into their cases, because many of these have been exposed as trumped-up and false,” NUPL-National Capital Region Secretary-General Kristina Conti said in a text message.

About 350,000 suspects were arrested in anti-illegal drugs operations under ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte and 24,000 under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., she added.

Lawmakers should consult the public about the decriminalization proposal, lawyer and policy analyst Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Enacting such measures will change our society for sure, so we must be sure that this is the direction we want to take.”

Seven of 10 Philippine detention facilities are overcrowded, with an average congestion rate of 386%, according to the Justice Sector Coordinating Council, which is made up of DoJ, the Supreme Court and Department of Interior and Local Government.

Increasing the evidence threshold for preliminary investigations, reducing bail and enacting a bill for the rehabilitation of drug offenders were all discussed at Wednesday’s jail summit.

Also among the proposed measures is the creation of a Department of Corrections and Penology that will unify the state’s corrections, jail and probation management systems.

“The Supreme Court is looking at revising the rules on criminal procedures to ensure that criminal cases are processed expeditiously from the beginning of the case to the end,” Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo told reporters. The overcrowding of prisoners in detention facilities is neither humane nor reformative, he added.

Treating prisoners humanely and appropriate developmental rehabilitation programs would reduce recidivism and promote good conduct inside jails, “giving them a chance for genuine reformation and a possible re-entry into society,” Interior Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr. said in a statement.