City jail violates BJMP memo

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Thursday, April 17, 2014


A GOVERNMENT agency that was denied entry inside the jail in Cagayan de Oro City to verify the incident of a hunger strike staged by the inmates, accused the jail warden for defying a memorandum which allows the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to get access to the prisoners.

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro obtained a copy of the memo, dated September 16, 2009, addressed to all Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) regional directors and was signed by Rosendo Dial, then BJMP chief, who guaranteed that CHR personnel should have access to the prison complex.

“… the Commission on Human Rights has visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities and their personnel, therefore, are authorized to visit our jails to look into the human rights conditions of our inmates and should not be barred from visiting our jails and interviewing inmates upon presentation of proper identification papers and a valid Mission Order from their superior,” the memo reads.

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“Clearance from this Office or from the Regional Director of the Jail Provincial is not a requirement for allowing them to visit and they should be given immediate access inside our facilities subject to the usual security procedures during their visits,” it added.

The memo furthered that “barring the CHR staff from visiting our facilities is unconstitutional and could subject our personnel to administrative and/or possible criminal actions.”

More than a hundred of inmates of the Cagayan de Oro City jail staged a hunger strike Monday morning to demand response from city jail officials on their concerns. Read the related story here.

Victorio Aleria Jr., CHR-Northern Mindanao supervising investigator, said that when he and a co-worker visited the city jail at Barangay Lumbia on Monday, they were not permitted to enter the area where the members of the BM 29 group are confined.

In a previous interview, Jail Superintendent Erwin Kenny Ronquillo, city jail warden, said Alleria and his companion were not allowed access to the BM 29 block due to security reasons, owing to the brewing tension on Monday when the inmates held a hunger strike to air their demands.

Aleria said CHR should have been allowed to enter the prison complex where the BM 29 gang members are living so that they could see firsthand the real situation inside the facility.

Before they could make a followup visit to the city jail, Aleria said they received information that nine of the BM 29 leaders were transferred to the Gingoog city jail Monday night.

In a text message sent to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro Wednesday afternoon, Ronquillo has confirmed the transfer of the BM 29 leaders.

Ronquillo said the BM 29 group was complaining about the food, water and visitation privileges.

Except for the visitation arrangements where the BM 29 inmates demanded that their children could enter their section, Ronquillo said the prisoners’ issues were properly addressed.

Aleria said the warden could have ordered escorts for the CHR officials so they could interview the members of the BM 29 and discuss their grievances without danger of harm or violence from the inmates.

He said it was the BM 29 members who informed the CHR through text messages of their complaints.

This was also confirmed when the jail guards confiscated cellphone units from the BM 29 inmates.

Aleria said how a cellphone could be obtained by a prisoner was through a visitor, a jail keeper or a trustee, an inmate who’s given permission to go in and out of the prison compound.

He added there was really nothing to fear if the jail guards have conducted regular inspections then all forms of weapons would have been confiscated from the inmates.

The recent situation at the city jail paled in comparison in the past few years where violence inside the prison was rampant and where an inmate was even killed and buried inside the jail complex, Aleria said.

When asked if he would lodge a complaint before the BJMP regional office in Northern Mindanao against Ronquillo for disallowing them entry to the BM 29 compound, Aleria in a text message Wednesday said, “We are still looking at the implications and weighing things down.”

Aleria said there is really no need to inform or remind Ronquillo of the BJMP memo since jail keepers are expected to know about it.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 17, 2014.

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