[Note] MAG’s Position Paper on the Proposed Law Establishing the National Preventive Mechanism


The Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT) establishes “a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The setting up of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) as one or several visiting bodies designated or maintained, at the domestic level, is in fact already long overdue as the Philippines is obligated to establish this preventive system within one year from its ratification of the OPCAT in 2012.

Nonetheless, the Medical Action Group (MAG) welcomes the on-going legislative process at the House of Representatives for the enactment of the NPM to complement the implementation of Republic Act No. 9745 or the “Anti Torture Law of 2009”. This piece of legislation seeks to prevent the act of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and to complete the necessary protection mechanism to end torture impunity.

While the OPCAT does not specify a specific form or structure for the NPM and the states are free to designate one or several new or existing bodies as their NPMs. It does however provide minimum requirements for the NPM according to which it should be:

  • Independent (its function, personal and institutional capacity);
  • Provided with sufficient resources (financial, human, logistical or material);
  • Have the expertise necessary to fulfil its mandate;
  • Have powers and guarantees, in particular access to all places of deprivation of liberty, information and persons; and
  • Enjoy privileges and immunities (i.e. protection from sanctions and confidentiality of information).

One of the possible organizational forms that the NPM can take is the designation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the CHR is to ‘exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities. But these are merely general visitorial powers. However, the visiting mandate of the NPM is specifically aimed at the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and has particular features prescribed by the OPCAT for unrestricted and unannounced visits. Thus, the NPM should be proactive and non-adversarial in its approach.

The MAG is fully supporting the proposed set up reflected in House Bill No. 5193 authored by Reps. Kit Belmonte and Barry Gutierrez for the establishment of the NPM as an attached agency to the CHR. An attached body to the CHR can make possible the diversity of expertise, but also gender balance and the adequate representation of ethnic and minority groups.

Nonetheless, whatever form the NPM may take, what is essential is that the NPM can carry out its mandate to conduct regular visits to all places of detentions without restriction. Their visits should lead to reports and concrete recommendations to improve the protection of persons deprived of liberty. After which, an annual report on their activities and their findings must be published after consultations with relevant government agencies and non-government organizations. The NPM can also give comments on relevant laws and regulations and propose for necessary reforms.

However, the setting up of the NPM should not be limited to legal consideration as it also involves health issues. The MAG believes that the participation of medical and health professionals in these visiting mechanisms is essential to address health issues related to torture and ill-treatment, examines and gives treatment to detainees, recommending actions to be taken to improve the treatment of detainees, to evaluate the health system and to assess the impact of general conditions of detention on the heath of detained population.

The United Nations Manual on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (or ‘Istanbul Protocol’) was developed to specifically use for torture documentation using scientific evidence based gathering. The Istanbul Protocol is now an internationally recognized guideline for medical and legal experts. It can be used as a tool to gather and document accurate and reliable evidence in connection with cases where torture is alleged and to help practitioners to assess the consistency between allegations and medical findings.

The medical professionals are in essence a key to prevent torture impunity. The medical documentation and medico-legal reports (MLR) that they write are important facts that can be used as pieces of evidence in legal or administrative proceeding for prosecuting torture cases and facilitating redress and reparation for survivors. It is therefore important to increase the capacity of medical practitioners in evaluating the physical and medical conditions of persons deprived of liberty using of the Istanbul Protocol. Thus, the Department of Health (DoH) needs to take an active role in the work of the NPM.

While the Republic Act (RA) No. 9745 or Anti-Torture Law has a number of strong provisions relating to victim’s access to a physical, medical and psychological examination, but until now, torture victims still rarely have access to a legal counsel and a medical doctor immediately after arrest and during detention. And even if investigating authorities guarantee the access to medical examination, the lack of formal knowledge and capacity of the medical doctors who are often among the first persons to come into contact with torture survivors creates a medical complicity as some doctors don’t perform the medical examination properly and diligently either due to low awareness on torture documentation or because of the intimidation or the fear of reprisal from the government authorities.

Thus in many cases, the investigations concerning allegations of torture are either completely unreliable. In some cases, medical examination is only allowed after inquest as torture victims were only seen by doctors assigned to any police or military health centers or to government hospitals who often just do cursory “check list” physical examinations with no inquiries about how torture marks may have been inflicted and the medical certificates have no reference to torture and the need for medical treatment.

Prevention of torture must also go hand in hand with prison reform. Prison condition as MAG observed is the most punishing aspect of doing time in jails. The general prison conditions are not only found dangerous to health and to human life. It breeds diseases, breaks down of one’s sanity and exacerbates tensions among inmates. Sexual violence and abuse are also being reported rampant in the correctional and custodial system. This is despite the passage of the Republic Act 10575 or the Prison Modernization Act of 2013. Major reforms must be undertaken that could give prison inmates a chance at rehabilitation and a meaningful life after imprisonment.

MAG has been advocating for prison reform for the past three decades. We have in fact submitted a recommendation to the Office of the Executive Secretary in 2011 on the Amended Guidelines for Recommending Executive Clemency particularly on Section 3 regarding Extraordinary Circumstances. We then proposed that:

  1. for humanitarian reason, to lower the age cut-off requirement to sixty (60) from seventy (70) years old; and
  2. for medical reason, to include terminally ill prisoners and debilitating diseases.

This as we argued conforms to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners.

For the NPM to effectively work, the Subcommittee on the Prevention Against Torture has given special value on civil society’s involvement. Not only that individuals working for civil society members should be give a place in the NPM but the appointment procedures should be made transparent, inclusive and participatory.

For MAG, the creation of the NPM should not be considered merely a “quick fix solution” but rather should be given careful review of the its mandate, jurisdiction, independence, membership, powers and responsibilities and working methods, to ensure that it fully complies with the international human rights standards.

The work of the NPM should go beyond regular visits and recommendations by conducting awareness-raising, training, or even launching of localized public inquiries, consultation and coordination meetings on how to address torture and ill-treatment and the general conditions of detention.

Ending impunity requires accountability. But it can start from preventing the commission of the human rights violation through collaborative efforts.  

Medical Action Group

Note: MAG’s position paper was presented during the Technical Working Group Meeting of Committee on Human Rights, at the House of Representatives on 10 February, 2015.

 

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[Blog] Yes, it is good to be online. But we can still do it better offline -HRonlinePH.com


[Blog] Yes, it is good to be online. But we can still do it better offline -HRonlinePH.com.

Only real-life action is the only way to achieve a genuine social transformation. Clicking a link can never replace our voice in the streets. Nor can we rely on social media alone to get people off their screens.

Yes, it is good to be online. But we can still do it better offline.
To inform, to inspire and to mobilize people for change virtually can never outdo the way we do it in an interfaced and personal way.

We are human beings after all with all the potentials to change and to change the world.

Read full article at http://hronlineph.com/2014/12/29/blog-yes-it-is-good-to-be-online-but-we-can-still-do-it-better-offline-hronlineph-com/

[Note] E-waste is not necessarily waste, it can be wealth


By Darwin Mendiola

Just a week ago, I attended a forum organized by Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. regarding E-Scrap. I thought at first that this was simply about another heap of garbage problem brought about by our growing consumerism. Little did I know that the proper management of electronic waste gives the anti-mining advocate a more convincing argument to end the natural mineral extraction as there are in our very eyes bulks of metal to mine.

Just like me, people nowadays may have old and damaged electronic devices just gathering dust in their closet. They may seem to be worthless and we opt to get rid of them. This resulted in the growing number of electronic items found in the dump sites or waste streams that are creating further waste problems.

As the old saying goes, “there is wealth in waste”.

Our continuous dependence on electronic equipment at home and in the workplace has given rise to a new environmental challenge – electronic waste. Electronic waste or e-waste, refers to electronic products that no longer satisfy the needs of its original purpose. These can include a wide variety of goods, such as computers, cellular phones, TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, video cameras, etc.

While experts say that old pieces of equipment can be harmful as they contain hazardous materials such as lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, and chromium that pose both physical and environmental health threat especially if exposed to sun and rain, but they can be a new source of income.

According to Greenpeace, there are huge electronic wastes being dump at the Smokey Mountain garbage site in Manila every year. Electronic waste is the fastest growing component in the global waste stream amounting to 20 to 50 million tons worldwide with Asia contributing about 12 million tons a year.

During the forum, a study made by Dr. Eulalio R. Guieb III of the University of the Philippines, entitled “The Social Life of Retired Cellular Phones”, focuses on the need to strengthen the recycle market that will help divert e-waste from the landfills, thereby reducing waste products and at the same time providing a new source for materials recovery for obsolete technology.

In his presentation, Dr. Guieb emphasized the general strengthening of all areas for e-waste management in the Philippines more than what the Solid Waste Management Law requires. With the growing bulk of e waste disposal every year, the government and the private sectors have overlooked the potential of retrieving valuable minerals in e-waste products. Dr. Guieb said that “for every ounce of gold that has to be mined in the open pit mining field, it produces more than 30 tons of waste”.

He added that by shifting our country’s economic focus from mineral mining to e-waste recycling, will not only preserve the environment but it can also also mitigate the growing e-waste problem and to reduce the need for mineral mining. He stressed out that “there are a lot of recoverable and valuable resources in e-waste like plastics, gold, copper, aluminum, and iron. To preserve our natural resources, it is only logical to recycle and reuse e-waste products instead of dumping into landfills.

But he made it clear that it can only be done if the government will do something to make it happen. Despite the existing e-waste policy framework, it still lacks adequate facilities for recycling technologies and by financial support. There is also a need for a continuous public awareness campaign and social dialogue between the public and private sectors in order for all stakeholders to be responsible for the policy implementation.

The first step is a simple recognition that e-waste is not necessarily waste, it can still be useful and valuable to us if we know how to properly dispose them. Who knows it may accelerate our slow paced economy.

monitor_e_waste

Photo courtesy of www.greenpeace.org.

[Notes] RECOGNIZING THE RIGHTS OF MENTALLY IMPAIRED INMATES AS PART OF PRISON REFORMS


By Medical Action Group

The Medical Action Group has recently received a query from AB Communication undergraduate students of the Ateneo de Manila University who are doing a study on the health conditions of mentally ill inmates in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) as part of their academic requirements.

To make their response institutional, the MAG staff members have discussed and deliberated the issue and come up with the following insights.

I am posting their response in order to further encourage a public discourse on the issue and to help shape up public policies and programs.

QUESTION:

“Do mentally ill patients share the same rights and limitations as regular prisoners? Is it humane to keep them imprisoned if they are in a mentally delicate condition?”

RESPONSE:

THE MEDICAL ACTION GROUP subscribes to the World Health Organization (WHO) assessment recognizing imprisonment by its very nature has an adverse effect on mental health.

Prison conditions have adverse impact on mental health in general, because of overcrowding, nature of violence, isolation from families and friends, uncertainty of life after prison, and of course, inadequate health services. The impact of these problems is even worse for prisoners who are already mentally and emotionally impaired which may have pushed them to commit a crime.

Considering that prison system operates according to a certain system of rules, policies, and procedures that regulate the conduct of all inmates, it will definitely run in constant tension with the vulnerabilities of prisoners who have mental illnesses for they are more likely to break any of these rules and may be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.

Given that most prison systems especially in the Philippines do not provide correctional officers with proper trainings in dealing with mentally ill inmates. The jail officers, who are usually trained like police officers whose main goal is to enforce the rules, do not understand and can’t distinguish normal social behavior to that of mentally ill. This may result to mishandling of mentally ill inmates that may constitute to human rights violations.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Standard Minimum Rules), adopted by the Economic and Social Council in 1957, although not a treaty, imposes obligations to the states to humanely treat prisoners—including providing mental health care to those who need it.

To wit:

Section 22.

(1) At every institution there shall be available the services of at least one qualified medical officer who should have some knowledge of psychiatry. The medical services should be organized in close relationship to the general health administration of the community or nation. They shall include a psychiatric service for the diagnosis and, in proper cases, the treatment of states of mental abnormality.

(2) Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Where hospital facilities are provided in an institution, their equipment, furnishings and pharmaceutical supplies shall be proper for the medical care and treatment of sick prisoners, and there shall be a staff of suitable trained officers.

In fact, the Standard Minimum Rules go beyond providing health care and treatment services but rather recognize that prisoners with serious mental illness should not be confined in prisons at all. They should be put in mental institutions, where they can be properly observed and treated by mental health professional. It further clarifies that while they are still considered as prisoners, they shall be placed under the special supervision of a medical officer.

While we do recognize the existing efforts of the government to improve the health facilities including provision of psychological wards particularly in the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) to meet the internationally accepted Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, sad to say, the general prison condition is still far below these standards. While the NBP, one of the biggest correctional facilities in the country is in a better situation than the others, it is still being confronted with various even perennial problems. Not to mention that the controls and supervisions of jail facilities are at various levels given the devolution of authority of central government to the local government units. Political dynamics usually plays around the layered bureaucracy.

The most common problem of prisoners or detainees is the insufficiency or lack of food provision due to the delay in release of food allotment and inadequate or unsanitary food preparation. In some instances, relatives of inmates have to supply them with food.

Over-crowded or prison congestion is still a major concern as there are no enough shelter/living space or worse it is not even suited for human existence. Some prisoners have to take turn for their sleeping schedule because there is a lack of sleeping paraphernalia and the undersized cells have poor ventilation. Unsanitary conditions are compounded by defective comfort rooms and lack of potable water system. In NBP, prisoners have to draw water from a deep well.

Due to these old prevailing problems, inmates have easily acquired different kinds of diseases. This is in spite the fact that the NBP Infirmary has a capacity of 500 patients. But apparently it is not being fully utilized because of the absence of sufficient medical supplies and laboratory facilities.

This is attributed to the abysmal low budget for prison improvement. Take note, each inmate has a budget of three pesos only earmarked for medicine, except for major medical problems which would need referrals with the Department of Health (DoH) for the needed medical treatment. More often that not, only those rich and influential inmates who are given VIP treatments can avail such services because they can afford to pay for their own medical expenses. Take for example the case of former Batangas Gov. Leviste and just recently Atty. Gigi Reyes, Sen. Enrile’s former Chief of Staff who can immediately go out of NBP escorted by the police to have their own medical check ups.

While poor, ailing and aging prisoners are usually just left to wait for their time to finally come
Just like what happened to the political prisoner, Mariano Umbrero who passed away two years ago as a result of his deteriorating medical condition and lack of medical care.

So how do we expect for our correctional system to address the need of the mentally ill inmates?

Prison time can only exacerbate the psychological problems of mentally ill prisoners. Given the fact that they are incarcerated, removed from the general public and separated with their families is already psychologically stressful. Usually they are likely to turn to negative coping mechanisms to survive in jail.

Although, insufficient funding is not the only reason why mentally ill prisoners do not receive the treatment they need, the existing prison conditions in the country are not rehabilitative in nature and further undermine the prisoners’ mental health.

Putting mentally ill inmates into segregation may be an option depending on their specific behaviors, but they should also be housed in specialized secure units where they can still participate in meaningful human activities, especially to have human interaction, and receive the proper mental health services.

However, Medical Action Group (MAG) believes that whatever improvements are made, prisons will never be a good place for the mentally ill.

The rights based approach to health affirms that the end-goal of any medical and health interventions should enhance the ability of the mentally ill prisoners in particular to lead a productive and law-abiding life as possible upon their return to society.

A restorative understanding of justice opens new pathways for both the response to crime and treatment of offenders. While most restorative processes take place in community settings, the underlying framework of the right to health is creating prison environments that contribute to rehabilitation, healing and change. It is for this reason that MAG together with other human rights NGOs is pushing for prison reforms in accordance with international human rights standards.

MAG_LOGO

[Personal Note] I am back


To my valued readers,

Have you ever experienced being crazy passionate about writing and then, seemingly all of the sudden, you lost interest?

It became less exciting, less fun, less of something you wanted to do but more of something you want to express.

I am very sorry for more than two years of a slump.
Even I, myself was wondering what happened.

But I have finally bounced back and clawed my way out.
The interest to write my opinion is once again become an obsession I can’t resist.

I am back.
And still imbued with the spirit of carpe diem…
to seize the moment…

be critical…

be involved…

be heard…

 

carpe diem