Persons Deprived of Human Dignity

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

Looking at the coffins of hundreds who died inside the National Penitentiary made me reflect on the names they give to the convicts and prisoners; Persons Deprived of Liberty or PDL. But the way many of them died, like being suffocated and killed by asphyxiation by forcing a plastic back over their heads, made me contemplate the term Persons Deprived of Human Dignity or PDHD.

The way the government runs our jails and prisons, the way prison officials treat convicts and long-term prisoners, the way they put human beings in small congested cages without ventilation; all these are palpable evidence that human society continue to dehumanize these people and deprive them of whatever remains of their dignity. The powerful can deprive a person of his property without due process of law and with their influence and connections. They can do that since they are powerful politically and economically. They can take away the lands from the farmers and pretend to call it foreclosures of mortgage. They can embellish their tyranny by the nuances of law and can use the police, the fiscals, and the judges to advance their greed. Nothing is impossible with money and politics.

They can deprive a poor person of liberty. They can arrest a poor farmer for erroneously harvesting the mangoes of his neighbor, or jail a small boy for stealing a loaf of bread or stealing a small bottle of medicine for his sick mother. But these wielders of powers are very slow and very hesitant to touch the privileged sons and daughters who commit drug crimes and other social felonies simply because these young delinquents are scions of rich taipans and powerful politicians. When you are poor and you get arrested for a small sachet of shabu, you shall languish in jails and you can even be maltreated inside. But if you are the son of a powerful cabinet member, you can just send your lawyers while you may attend the hearing via digital platform.

The powerful can even deprive a poor person of their lives. If they are arrested, and if they put up resistance, and the lives of the arresting officers are supposedly put in danger, these people are dispensable. Yes, the police can neutralize the suspects and silence them forever. For dead men tell no tales. No, there are no extra-judicial killings in our country. The police officers were only defending themselves. They too have the right to self-defense. And the international court of justice, they would say, has no jurisdiction over internal affairs of a sovereign nation. They would say that the international human rights groups do not have any business interfering in our internal affairs, because our judicial system is working perfectly.

Deprived of life, deprived of liberty, deprived of property? Not only that, the poor are deprived of human dignity. They are made mendicants and forever recipients of ayuda. They are given alms instead of decent work where they could earn a living with human dignity. The farmers remain as tenants. Agrarian reform is merely a slogan. The big haciendas have not been distributed to the farmers because the hacienderos are the same people who control Congress. These oligarchs and elite landowners who control political decision-making are the same gods who control the budget and the military and police. How can Congress pass pro-poor legislations when the senators and the congressmen are the taipans themselves or the protectors of the rich, the powerful, and the elite?

Where can you find human dignity when you see half-clad children in the streets begging for food? Is it enough for you to say that they are being controlled by syndicates? Where is dignity in the face of the beggars roaming the nooks and the alleys, children getting their lunch from garbage cans and dumping areas, young kids selling their bodies to foreign pedophiles? All this indignity happens while senators and congressmen are busy debating where to put billions in intelligence funds, and other members of Congress go on European junkets while the whole nation is being besieged by hurricanes? What is happening to our country, general?


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