Time has ravaged the Manila City Jail. It is under-staffed, overcrowded, and in disrepair. Originally built by the Spaniards in the 19th Century, the MCJ was home to prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation of Manila during World War II. Today it houses over 5,300 inmates – an overcapacity rate of 5x on 1.2 hectares – making the MCJ undoubtedly one of the most heavily congested jail facilities in the country.
As of August 2004, the Bureau of Jails Management & Penology (BJMP) had an average of 54,582 detainees in its city jails nationwide. On average approximately 92% are awaiting trials, while the remaining 8% are convicted felons serving sentences ranging from 3 years and below. The MCJ houses approximately 24% of the total city jail population in the National Capital Region (NCR), or 9.4% of the total jail population of the country. It is a social and health catastrophe due to an excruciatingly slow criminal justice process and a severe lack of funding for the BJMP and the Judiciary.
On average it takes between six months to one year for a detainee to be arraigned. Court dockets are so backlogged that a judge or Justice has an average caseload of over 1,000 cases. This is due in part to the high ‘vacancy rate’ being experienced in the lower courts. As of September 2004, the ‘vacancy’ rate in the lower courts was at about 34%. In the city of Manila, seven (7) out of fifty-six (56) Regional Trial Courts (RTC) are designated as Special Drug Courts. In September 2004 only two (2) out of these seven (7) courts had presiding judges, the rest were “vacant”. With nearly 35% of the Manila City Jail Population awaiting trial for drug offences, the courts are stretched to its limits.
Based upon the “Action Program for Judicial Reform” study by the Supreme Court, the Judiciary has seen its share of the national budget consistently decline. With allocated funds from the national budget at 1.17% in 1998, the Judiciary has seen its share of funding from the national budget steadily erode from 1.1% in 2001, to 1% in 2003 to 0.9% in 2003. Shrinking funding allocations makes it even more difficult for the courts to attract and retain qualified personnel. It is estimated that the compensation packages the Judiciary is able to offer are 72%-84% below the prevailing rates being offered in the private sector for comparable positions.
Funding for the BJMP has always been a problem. Since 1999 its Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE), as a percentage of the national budget, has been less than 0.5%. It is from this allocation that the BJMP takes its funds for its meal allowances of Php35.00 per day per inmate (approximately US$0.64 per day).
The medical/health situation is extremely tenuous too at the MCJ. Its medical staff is under-manned, its facilities lacking and its medical supplies under-supplied. Over-congestion and the lack of properly ventilated facilities make the jail a breeding ground for illnesses. Respiratory illnesses are rampant with Pulmonary Tuberculosis (PTB) topping the list. Skin diseases are also prevalent, and detainees frequently complain about feeling “manas” – the swelling of the body due to inactivity.
Without the political will and funding support from the government, decongesting court dockets and hence the jail facilities will be impossibility.