101 East

The Philippines: Locked Up

How the war on drugs is pushing Filipino jails to breaking point as they operate at 600 percent their capacity.

“The first time I set foot inside here, I felt like I was being choked,” says Manila City Jail inmate, Guillermo Busano. “I thought, ‘Where am I? Why am I here?’ I was so scared.”

Almost 160,000 people like Busano have been arrested in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed the ‘war on drugs’ in 2016.

Jails across the country are in crisis. Some are 600 percent over capacity, with the vast majority of prisoners jailed for years without conviction as over-burdened courts struggle to process their cases on time.

More than 70 percent of all inmates in Metro Manila jails are charged with drug offences. But many, including Busano, allege that police fabricated the evidence against them.

“On the table, there was already the evidence,” he said from his prison dorm. “They told me to point at it so they can take a photo. But I refused. I said, ‘That’s not mine. Why do I have to point at that?’ They told me, ‘Do you want us to kill you?'”

After more than two years in jail waiting for a verdict, Busano, like most drug suspects, has pleaded guilty to the charges in exchange for an early release. But despite already completing his sentence, he remains in jail.

101 East investigates the shocking conditions inside the most congested prisons in the world, and the inmates trying to survive them.