09/29/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino Church in solidarity with prison inmates

by Santosh Digal
Bishops complain about prison overcrowding and long trials. They want rehabilitation programmes and a more efficient justice system for prisoners. Caritas Manila helps inmates and their families.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines is calling on the government to promote solidarity and rehabilitation programmes for the country’s prison population and make its criminal justice system more efficient so as to improve the plight of the more than 180,000 prisoners now languishing in overcrowded cells across the country.

“We believe that fair and effective criminal justice systems which ensure respect for the human rights of all those involved are a prerequisite for combating crime and for building societies that make the person whole,” said Puerto Princesa Bishop Pedro Arigo, who heads the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Filipino bishops noted that the number of inmates in the country has increased exponentially in recent years and factors like poor living condition in jails, prolonged resolution of cases, and the lack of legal representation and opportunity to rehabilitate offenders hinders the higher purpose of reintegrating them back into society.

Sadly, “reforming the penal system is really not a priority of the government,” said Rodolfo Diamante, the commission’s executive secretary. For him the system’s goal ought to be “restorative.”

The Catholic Church will observe “prison week” starting 20 October to raise awareness in the country about the plight of prisoners, pray for them and promote initiatives to help them face their sentence and return to civil society once it has been purged.

Caritas Manila is also helping inmates and their families by providing legal aid, children education and livelihood projects for families whose members are in prison.

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