FREE AT LAST. A total of 580 inmates from prison and penal farms in the country shout for joy after being officially released during a ceremony at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City on April 20, 2023. The Philippines is among the 38 countries that had pledged support for the United Nations' minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, in Vienna, Austria on Monday (May 22, 2023). (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA - The Philippines has joined 37 other countries that have pledged support for the United Nations' minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

The country, through Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, expressed its support during the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's 32nd session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna, Austria on Monday, according to a news release.

“We remain steadfast in addressing these challenges. The principal guiding principle in our prison reform program is to consider PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) not as numbers but human beings with dignity and rights,” Remulla said during the meeting.

He said that making prison facilities in the Philippines more humane and more dignified is one of the priorities of the country’s reform agenda on the criminal justice system.

“We are determined to ensure, that except for their liberty, our PDLs continue to enjoy all their other fundamental human rights while in detention. In the Philippines, our PDLs are not a forgotten population,” he said.

The DOJ chief said the reform measures include regionalization of prison facilities or establishment of several prisons in other regions of the country in order to bring PDLs nearer to their families.

Remulla also cited a recent legislation, Republic Act No. 11928, or the Separate Facility for Heinous Crimes Act, which will establish three state- of-the-art facilities that will house PDLs who are classified as high-level offenders for them to receive a more responsive and specifically-designed reformation program.

The DOJ also cited careful attention to vulnerable sectors of PDLs, including children in conflict with the law (CICL), and continuing efforts to decongest the country’s prisons.

Since July 2022, ahead of the June 2023 deadline of the UN Human Rights Council last year, the Philippines has discharged a total of 5,982 PDLs on various grounds, namely: completion of service of sentence, parole, or service of minimum imposed sentence. (PNA)