Philippines inmates protest on prison roof over food, warden

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — About 100 inmates in an overcrowded jail climbed atop the roof of a prison building in the central Philippines and noisily protested with raised fists and placards, saying they were not being fed well and demanding the removal of the jail warden, who was immediately suspended, jail officials said Thursday.

The inmates peacefully dispersed after the Wednesday morning protest and were brought back to their cells in the provincial district jail compound in Pototan town in Iloilo province, and they will face an investigation and possible disciplinary action, officials said.

Pictures of the rare protest by inmates, who massed on the roof of a building facing a jail gate, where some journalists later gathered, were posted on Facebook and quickly drew attention in a country with some of the world's most congested prisons. One of their placards read: “We’re hungry, warden get out.”

“They really got attention,” Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman Xavier Solda told The Associated Press, adding that the inmates, who included suspected communist guerrillas and drug offenders, sneaked out of morning prayers and physical exercise under the sun and used a ledge to climb up onto the roof in a secretly planned protest action.

A handwritten note thrown by the inmates accused jail authorities of serving them inadequate meals and of seizing food brought by relatives to force them to buy meals at a jail food outlet. Glass shards were found in rice rations at one point and rotten fish was served at another time, the note said. But jail officials denied the allegations that appeared in local news reports, saying the inmates were served three proper meals a day and no complaints were aired until the prison protest.

Solda said a standard budget of 70 pesos ($1.25) is allotted for the daily meals of each of the more than 1,100 inmates in the Iloilo jail, including the costs of cooking gas, and added that officials were always looking for ways to improve conditions in nearly 500 jails across the country.

“We will not dismiss their concerns just because they’re PDLs,” Solda said, using the acronym for “persons deprived of liberty” to refer to the inmates. “If their concern is food, then definitely we will look into this and if there’s a problem, we will look for solutions.”

The jail warden the inmates complained about was temporarily relieved for an investigation and replaced with an officer who recently won an award as one of the country’s best jail administrators and would be acceptable to the inmates, he said.

Some of the inmates had opposed their transfer to a new and larger prison building, where the roof protest was held, from an old and congested detention facility apparently due to stricter security, Solda said.

Jails in the Philippines currently are crammed nearly four times their capacity with a congestion rate of 390%, which is an improvement from over 600% some years ago, he said, adding that officials were continuing a program to build more detention facilities to ease the congestion.