Jails, justice system at breaking point as Philippine drugs war intensifies

MANILA Reuters) – In a teeming prison for undertrials in the Philippines’ capital Manila, Rody Lacanilao, an inmate for 18 months, says he prays for clear weather at night.

A downpour, he says, will prevent him and hundreds of fellow prisoners in the Quezon City jail from sleeping on plywood mats in an outdoor hallway. The cells themselves are overflowing with an influx of detainees from President Rodrigo Duterte’s year-long war on drugs.

Thousands of people have been killed in Duterte’s campaign, mainly drug users and small-time peddlers. Tens of thousands of others have been thrown into jail, and both prisons and courts in the Southeast Asian nation are creaking under the pressure.

“Since the war on drugs started, it became harder to sleep,” Lacanilao told a Reuters team allowed access to the Quezon City jail. “We have no place to go to when it rains.”

The 37-year-old is facing trial on a drugs charge.

The prison was initially built for 262 inmates, but now has 2,975, three-quarters of them jailed for drug-related offences.

At night, its basketball court, chapel, classrooms and walkways become sleeping areas for detainees.

Inmates who spoke to Reuters said living conditions were unbearable, made worse by the prospect that it could be years before their trials are decided. Many of them are not eligible for bail or cannot afford to pay the bond.

“Prisoners came in one after the other. If you have money, you can buy a spot in the sleeping quarters,” said Junjun Vallecer, who says he has been in the jail for four years for possession of drugs but is still being tried. He says he has to wait four to six months between court appearances.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) put the prison population in the country, including undertrials and convicts, at 137,417 as of the end of June, up 22 percent since Duterte took office at the end of June last year.

Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency arrested 96,703 suspected pushers, users and…

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