I'm starting to quite like this ‘blogging’ thing. It gives me a chance to put a voice to the things that I think.
I write a newsletter every month, but there’s only limited things I can say in that and I don't get to be too personal. A blog gives me the chance to let you know what it’s like to be me.
Now my (7) kids are growing up I get to say that a lot. When they shout, “Who’s taken my chocolate out of the fridge??” I tell them, “Now you know what it feels like to be me!!”
Of course I’m assuming that you are reading this blog because you are interested in what it is like to be me!!!
Did I mention that I work with prisoners? Well, that is what I do here in the Philippines and I love my job.
I lead a team and we visit 4 jails every week when and if finances permit, we visit the Maximum, Medium and RDC prisons in Muntinlupa (South Manila) once a month.
|MUNTINLUPA MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON|
|MUNTINLUPA MEDIUM SECURITY PRISON|
|MUNTINLUPA RDC PRISON (Where inmates go to prepare for integration with general population)|
|INMATES INSIDE JAIL|
|MYSELF WITH THE JAIL WARDEN OF SN. FERNANDO JAIL|
(I really must get myself another T-shirt!! I promise, I did wash it in between these photo shots!!!)
Of course the justice system here is so much different to what I was used to in the UK and it took a bit of adjusting.
One time, my mum and my niece found themselves in a police investigation unit office (or should I say, broken down old stationary caravan). They were shocked to learn that there were no modern investigative tools, not even a telephone, just a few hand drawn sketches on the wall and an antiquated old computer. My mum asked one of the police officers, “How do you manage to solve any crimes?” and he answered so matter-of-factly “Witnesses mam!!” And in my twenty eight plus years working here, that is truly it. Police rely almost entirely on witnesses (which is ok if the witnesses are genuine and honest but very sad for the victims who fall prey to ‘false witnesses’!!).
Of course, we can’t blame the officers when they don’t have the resources to do a thorough investigation. They have to make the best of a bad situation.
Then there is the court system. In a similar way, I have to feel sorry for the judges who are working through mountains of cases.
I often find myself in court having been asked to give moral support to inmates and I still find it quite shocking.
Fortunately the courts do give ‘priority’ to criminal cases in consideration that the accused are usually detained in the local jails. So if your case happens to be a civil case, you will have to sit through the morning’s criminal trials, before yours will be heard.
The trial courts are usually packed to capacity at every hearing and there are usually so many cases to be heard that there are only seats (benches) for the inmates (inmates are easily distinguished as they are handcuffed to each other and wear yellow t-shirts stating they are detainees). It’s standing room only for complainants, witnesses and relatives. Being a foreigner and being a familiar face to many of the police officers, I'm usually privileged to get a seat.
Sometimes there are as many as thirty criminal cases to be heard in one morning. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even an attorney, to figure that not much is going to be achieved in any one of those trials. In each case too, they have to take time to state the obvious such as name, address, and a lot of what seems to me to be irrelevant trivia, and by the time all that has been stated and confirmed, it’s almost time to move on to the next case.
What’s even worse (especially if you are an inmate), is that cases often postponed. If the inmate’s attorney, witnesses or complainants fail to show or if the fiscal (prosecutor) is out of town, or in a meeting, or if the judge is sick or attending a seminar, the trial is automatically postponed. One time we all sat down and it all seemed hopeful. The attorneys were present, the fiscal and judge were there too, but then there was a power cut. The judge waited less than five minutes and then announced that the hearings were all postponed. Before we left the court the power was back, but proceedings were already postponed!! There is just a total sense of despair when their cases are postponed and many of the female inmates they just can’t hold back their tears.
|EX-PRISONERS VISIT THEIR FORMER HOME|
So inmates pile into the courtroom hoping that the hearing will go ahead to so often have their hopes dashed. And as the judge has so many cases to handle, when a case is postponed, sometimes inmates have to wait as long as six months for a resetting.
In general if a case goes to trial, the accused can expect at least three years in jail no matter what the case.
One time there was a group of young people arrested in the town for illegal gambling. In fairness to the police, the group had been warned several times but undeterred they continued to play cards in a public place. Police seized a pack of cards and P36 (approx 50p or just less than $1) of gambling money and the group where hauled off to the station. There they were told that they could pay a P 1,000 fine each (approx £15) or their case would go to trial. Two opted to pay the fine but because the other three didn’t have the money, the case went to trial. The two got out immediately on bail. After two years a kind visitor of mine kindly paid the bail for another, but the two are still in jail and that was over 4 years ago!!!
I also have two friends whose cases are fraud and their cases are still under trial after 16 years. If there are many complainants, each complainant represents one count (or one case) and then there is little hope of a speedy trial.
I have another friend who was found guilty of 10 counts of murder and was released after 15 years. The fraud and illegal recruitment (finding people jobs abroad illegally) cases are still under trial after 16 years.
So, if you are planning to come to the Philippines, take my advice and be sure you don’t have a brush with the law!!