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TURNING POINT: Double Whammy

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 27 March)—The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA ) recently announced the termination of the northeast monsoon on Friday, March 22, and the onset of what Filipinos often call summer in the midst of El Niño. Needless to say, summer pushes higher the blazing temperature impacted by El Niño. The sickening heat rages everywhere, except in Baguio and Tagaytay.

The worst to be scorched by summer is expected to be Dagupan City again and neighboring places in Pangasinan. This well-known city receives the highest heat index for two consecutive years ( 2021-2022 ) and is at the top of the list of the hottest place in the Philippines. In May 2021, it reached the extreme heat of 53 degrees Celsius, and when the year 2022 approached, it gained a dangerously recorded heat of 54.39 degrees on April 20, 2022, and a scorching 55 degrees on May 2, 2022.

The scorching temperature is currently ravaging agricultural crops in Mindoro, likewise that of the Ilocos region.

Crops and livestock are destroyed by abnormally high temperature; plants are wilted and livestock may die from dehydration. Massive fish kill may also occur in fish farms as dissolved oxygen declines quickly with increasing temperature in the water. High temperature forces out the oxygen out of the water, freeing it back to the air. Even fish in coastal waters may experience fish kill. Now and then, thick aggregate of fish are found gasping in water surface near the shoreline chasing after oxygen, vulnerably exposed to predators and humans. This surprising phenomenon often occurs during long dry spell, considered by coastal folk a delightful bonus from heaven.

Humans, on the other hand, suffer most from spiking heat index. Heat index is a measure indicating the level of discomfort the average person is thought to experience as a result of the combined effects of the temperature and humidity of the air. For example, when the temperature is 32 °C with 70% relative humidity, the heat index is 41 °C. Those affected by increasing heat may experience dizziness, weakness or may succumb to heat stroke.

Worst hit by the double whammy of El Niño and the summer heat are the poor, especially the elderly and very young, who live in small box houses of rusting iron sheet and cardboard in blighted communities which have no access to power and water services. Without electricity to diffuse the stifling air around them and water to cool their bodies, their only option is to find some public parks where trees may offer them temporary refuge, and to bathe amidst floating trash of all kinds in the nearest body of water nearby, no matter how dangerously polluted it may be or how high the level of its E. coli contents. So you will find them, for instance, along Roxas Blvd., and in the shores of Baseco compound in Manila.

While the poor in blighted communities have still the option, however limited, to escape the infernal heat, the persons deprived of liberty (DPL) who are languishing in many obnoxiously congested jails can do nothing.

Inmates in jail facilities are kept there immediately upon being caught committing a crime, waiting for proper charges, or waiting for their trial or its resumption. The number of inmates has ballooned in the advent of the Duterte drug war. Those who survived the EJK landed in horridly congested jails, where 20 or more inmates are dumped into a cell designed for six. In some jails, it’s often standing room only. Movement requires difficult maneuver. Disposing waste challenges the imagination because the toilet is also used as a sleeping quarter. Sleeping is rotated for a definite length of time. Those who sleep have to lay together tightly side by side on the floor. Those waiting for their turn have to stand tightly side by side, too. The suffering of the inmates is aggravated by their suffocating body heat.

Packed like sardines in jails that are short of ventilation and hygienic facilities, deprived of sleep and nourished only with food worth P15 a day, inmates are prone to contagious diseases and mental issues.

The lack of judges to try thousands of cases prolongs the inhuman suffering of the inmates in their holding facilities. Some inmates have been there from 10-15 years waiting for sentencing.

Accordingly, total of 24,801 inmates are being held in 60 jail facilities in Region IV-A, with a capacity of only 5,237 inmates. The COA said 36 jails in Metro Manila have a population of 29,518 inmates as against the total ideal capacity of 5,190, or a variance of 24,328 inmates.

Based on the BJMP’s latest data, the San Mateo Municipal Jail remains the country’s most congested jail with a 2,836% congestion rate. The Rizal jail is followed by the Dasmariñas City Jail Male Dormitory with its 2,464% congestion rate, and Muntinlupa City Jail Male Dormitory with a 2,453% congestion rate.

Needless to say, the congestion in city jails is an inhuman treatment of citizens who are not even yet convicted of any crime. This state-tolerated situation grossly violates human rights, which is unconstitutional.

By any standard, what is happening in extremely congested jails is torture. This violates Article III, Section 12.2 of the Constitution which says that “No torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him (accused). Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.” Note: the word (accused) is supplied.

We have yet to hear a squeak from the Human Rights Commission or from human rights groups on this morally disturbing concern.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental.)

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