The Peer Group help of former Persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by Melvin Nuñez

One’s life must continue to bloom and stretch his stems even carrying big challenges.


Family, friends, peer groups, local government units, non-government organizations, and the community plays a vital and huge role in ensuring the welfare and well-being of persons deprived of liberty (PDL) during the current health crisis. Sometimes, it takes a broader perspective to people with big hearts to conquer realities, and this contributes a lot to the goals of a developing humane society.


Looking not only at the impact of reintegration on the former persons deprived of liberty but also the impact on their community and on wider society change perspectives and narratives on humanity and lessen stigma even if people do not know them.


HLAF’s special story from its beneficiaries from the Focused Reintegration of Ex-Detainees (FRED) program summarizes this humane empowerment all up.


Ate Susan, a former beneficiary of the program, who is currently a business manager of a cosmetics, dietary supplements, and personal care brand based in the United States has been lending her hand to create job opportunities to her fellow FRED groups. When I asked her why, she told me that although she and her family was stressed-out and still coping due to the challenges brought by the health crisis on financial, emotional, and even physical aspect, she new that there were more people suffering than them, and the first few people she thought of was her FRED peer groups. “Alam kong hirap na hirap tayong mga tao na mabuhay ngayong panahon na ito, lalo’t lumalaban tayo para lang may makain kahit ngayon araw. Ako at ang aking pamilya ay nawalan rin ng pag-asa nung una at nastress. Ang mister ko po ay hindi makasampa ng barko, tapos ‘yung mga apo ko nandito pa, nagtiwala lang kami sa Panginoon na hindi tayo pinapabayaan. Isa pa, ‘nung nalaman po ni Sir Wendell ang aming kondisyon, ay nagpaabot rin po sila ng tulong tapos po dun kami nabuhayan.


When her company regained full operations again last month, she then tried to offer reselling jobs to her FRED group. “Dahil dito, narealize ko na kaya ko naman tumulong dito sa trabaho ko, bakit hindi ko dalhin sa kanila, para kahit paano kung may mabenta sila ay may kita rin sila”. It is not only the profit that they earn but the learning process of how online businesses work as well.


She has been able to sell more than of her regular day operations because people nowadays are more concerned of their health and immunity, which they had products of. The expense of transportation and effort of going to the locations we had have been lessened. She said that it is important to see light in these most challenging times, “if we can help, help out”.


Although many of us may not know the situations of former Persons deprived of liberty and how they bounce back, it is not mysterious to us that being a flower to a gloomy garden brings color to it.

Hygiene Kits for COVID-19 Response in Philippine Jails

Written by Melvin Nuñez

The Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. (HLAF) joins the utmost efforts of the government, civil society organizations, non-government organizations, private companies, and individuals at this difficult and challenging time to partner with different jails in the Philippines in their multi-tasked response to COVID-19.


Good Hygiene is critical to maintain and promote proper welfare and well-being to everyone in different environments, especially in Philippines Jails. To support the health response of our jails, HLAF have partnered with the MCKS Caring Heart Foundation, the University of the Philippines – College of Chemical Engineering, and the Ateneo Office of Social Concern and Involvement, where HLAF have been able to donate to a Jail Population of 21,150 (as of May 20, 2020).


The hygiene kits include toothpastes, bleach bottles, detergent powders, shampoos, plastic bags, face masks, and disinfectants. Here’s a list of the jails we were able to give: Baras Municipal Jail, Antipolo City Jail, Quezon City Jail, Pasay City Jail, San Mateo Municipal Jail, Caloocan City Jail, Navotas City Jail, Pasig City Jail, Malabon City Jail, Sta. Rosa City Jail, Cabuyao City Jail, and Manila City Jail. 


HLAF continues to spread positivity in every way possible to reach most of its beneficiaries, even if most of us are severely affected by the global pandemic. As COVID-19 continue to spread, HLAF has already been trying alternatives and rethink its activities which can be done online or virtually to battle against the Armageddon of waves and avoid physical contact to people which have been brought by the health crisis. The online activities done by HLAF can always be viewed on its Facebook page, live videos are also being conducted so that a lot of its audience may learn even through their cellphones.


The experiences and trials created by this pandemic will not hinder HLAF from its advocacies and responsibilities to every vulnerable sector to whom COVID-19 pose remarkable risks.

Nog's Adventurous Journey

Written by Melvin

According to the National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health, the majority of mental healthcare is provided in hospital settings and there are underdeveloped community mental health services. There is 1 doctor for every 80,000 Filipinos (WHO & Department of Health, 2012); the emigration of trained specialists to other countries, particularly English-speaking countries, contributes to this scarcity.

Once in jail, many individuals do not receive the treatment they need and end up getting worse, not better, in most instances. They can stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness. They are at risk of victimization and often their mental health conditions get worse. Jails can be scary, the unfamiliar surroundings, the loud noises, undetermined movements, and, what else? One has no idea, who they are with.

Many individuals, especially without access to mental health services and support, wind up homeless, in emergency rooms and often re-arrested. Jailing people with mental illness creates huge burdens on law enforcement, corrections, and state and local budgets. It does not protect public safety. And people who could be helped are being ignored.

Nog (not his true name), a former-PDL who has been released from the Manila City Jail through the help of the FRED (Focused Reintegration of Ex-Detainees) program of HLAF is one. Nog has been in jail for 15 years, he has been identified to have mental health concerns, according to the National Center for Mental Health and Manila City Jail.

On the other hand, Manila City Jail does not want to release Nog yet even though he should be already be out, since his family is unidentified, and he doesn’t know where to go. They are also anxious of the possibilities that Nog might just be rearrested again.

Nog spent 15 years in jail because his family is nowhere to be identified and located. This is where HLAF decided to help him get back to his family. Through HLAF’s partnership with the different municipalities and its barangays, the program has been able to identify his family in Malabon City, Metro Manila.

Nog’s time in jail has been adventurous, he said. “Okay naman ako ‘dun” in a pleasant tone. He had been helping in cleaning their cell and wiping the floor. He also said that he has a particular duty, he was among the people who had been guards whenever the other PDLs have to go to sleep since Manila City jail is among the over-congested jails in the Philippines, “naglilinis lang ako nun sa kulungan, nagbabantay ng mga tulog kasi may oras din yung pagtulog, pero masaya”.

         Meanwhile, his family were extremely merry since Nog’s return. His Mom said that when he came home Nog lost a lot of weight, although he was thin on the first hand. She was dazed that through those years, Nog’s mental state improved, he became mindful of his thoughts, and were easily understood. His Mom, as a tinapa (smoked-fish) vendor said that they were coping through life even with this circumstances, while his step-father is a truck-helper.

It is not only the Family who is thankful, but the community as well. This includes the Manila City Jail, his friends, and other people concerned of him.

Since Nog’s release, he has not been doing much. He is currently on a hard time finding a good job. “Ngayon, ang binabantayan ko na lang ay ang bahay, tapos minsan lumalabas ako tapos kwentuhan lang, pero mas masaya na ako ngayon”, he said. “Sa tingin ko, 100% na ako ngayon”, he ended.

Although their gratitude was in silent mode that time, their eyes were our witness that them being together again shows how HLAF works, for its advocacies. 

Currently, Nog is under the FRED program of HLAF.

HLAF conducts Online Welfare and Legal Mission to PDLs

Written by Melvin Nuñez

HLAF has started to conduct an Online Welfare and Legal Mission even in the midst of battling against COVID-19 and the challenges brought by the enhanced community quarantine to connect and know, even virtually the situations of PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty), and see how they feel amidst the happenings brought by the pandemic.

HLAF has already been able to contact and conduct the Online Welfare and Legal Mission with the Quezon City Jail – Male dorm, Manila City Jail – Male dorm, and San Mateo Municipal Jail – Male dorm on April 3 & 6, 2020.

The PDLs expressed their gratitude, and said that they were happy to know that there are still people and organizations like HLAF, working even virtually to promote their rights, welfare, and well-being, and know how they feel during the challenges brought by the virus.

Moreover, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) expressed their support on this HLAF activity. They were thankful that activities like this rise-up to the needs of PDLs, and in promoting their welfare and well-being.

The Online and Legal Mission is also attended by the Ateneo Clinical Legal Education Students (CLED), from the Ateneo Law School. The students said that they felt a good vibe after the session since although virtually, they were still ignited to help PDLs during challenging times. “Helping them never was a waste of time”. They were thankful to take part on this HLAF’s advocacy activity.

Currently, HLAF continues to provide activities in promoting the rights, welfare, and well-being of PDLs together with its volunteers. Although only through virtual means, HLAF commits to work together in promoting the welfare and well-being of every Filipino, especially those most vulnerable.



The TFKK is a doorbell for us

Written by Melvin

The space inside prisons is not adequate to receive such an influx of people and has led to severe overcrowding. Individual cells now hold up to a gazillion times their capacity, forcing prisoners to sleep virtually piled up on one another.

In Manila, inmates at this desperately overcrowded remand prison pray for the small things. That it won't rain, that they can buy some food to supplement meagre rations, that the case against them will soon be heard in court.

Unbearable prison conditions are made even tougher by the fact it could be years before their trials are decided. Many are not eligible for bail or cannot afford the bail bond. The Public Attorney's office, a legal aid agency attached to the Department of Justice, says it has more than what you think outstanding cases.

In the Philippines, trials typically take a number of years to begin, two or three to complete, and two or three more if the outcome is appealed. The Task Force Katarungan at Kalayaan (TFKK) served as a doorbell for the Malabon Regional Trial Court to expedite the lawful release of the PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty). According to Executive Judge Ma. Antonia Largoza-Cantero and Judge Misael M. Ladaga, “it’s a recap call for the judges to alarm the judicial body since we have to be always on top of the situation of our PDLs”. That also paved the way of monitoring of every court especially on how long the process has been for a particular PDL. 

The Malabon TFKK was referred by Executive Judge Danilo S. Cruz of the Pasig TFKK. "Before, the Malabon RTC has no idea with what HLAF does, as well about the TFKK. We then had our preliminary talk and meeting, where Judge Ladaga was appointed", Executive Judge Cantero said. The meeting was blockbuster since there were representatives from the Malabon RTC (Judges), the local government units, the city prosecutor's office, the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), BJMP wardens, and other invited stakeholders to discuss on how the program on expediting the release of PDLs be done.

Moreover, the BJMP should improve their facilities first, since Malabon has only 2 vehicles to transport the PDLs from different facilities and from their hearings, the Executive Judge requests. 

The legal procedure can be shortened through TFKK, so we give priority to those who have been anguishing for long, Judge Ladaga said.

Although the Malabon TFKK faced tough challenges, they still trusted what hope can bring to these PDLs through looking for a legal basis for their release such as: recognisance, bail, and other forms. So, they partner with HLAF in these difficult situations.

We are very thankful to HLAF's coordination for bringing us the TFKK. "Had there been no coordination, there will be no US for the PDLs", Judge Ladaga emphasized. "Actually, TFKK brought us to realizations and awareness that we have partners that can help us in making the processes straightforward, such as the: Bahay Pag-Asa Malabon, MADAC (Malabon Anti-Drug Abuse Council), and the BADAC (Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council), Executive Judge Cantero added. Malabon hopes that the collaboration between them and HLAF will continue to help in expediting the release of those deserving PDLs.