DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 9 March) – On International Women’s Day 2017, I remember Jalila Maulani, whom I met five years ago when I first began volunteering in the Davao City Jail along Ma-a Road. Long before the current Tokhang anti-drug effort, Jalila Maulani and her sister, Jalima, were arrested in 2008 in connection with an undercover drug-bust operation for selling shabu (methamphetamine) and charged under section 5 of Republic Act 9165 (The Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002), a heinous crime which has a penalty of mandatory life imprisonment.
A year and half after being detained in the Davao City Jail women’s facility in Ma-a, she began experiencing pain in her chest. The symptoms worsened until she was compelled to seek treatment in December 2010, when she was diagnosed with stage III-B breast cancer. Though she was given a doctor’s recommendation for immediate chemotherapy and mastectomy, she was forced to decline the treatment because she knew she could not afford it.
During this time, Jalila’s public defense attorney, along with the warden at the Davao City Female Jail, made her first request to the judge that Jalila be released (in legal jargon, “on recognizance”) and placed under house arrest where she would spend her last living days. They asked that she be allowed to go home while her trial slowly wound its way through the presentation of evidence, witness testimony, defense rebuttal and endless shuffling of papers that usually takes years to process. This request was denied by then presiding judge Salvador Ibaretta.
If allowed home, she would have been placed under the supervision of the barangay captain in Barangay 76-A, who stated that he is amenable to this motion. Barangay 76-A, known as Bucana, is built along the edge of Davao Gulf and is one of the largest urban poor communities in Davao City. In Bucana, alongside a few permanent cement structures, informal houses made of scrap wood and salvaged metal are built on stilts and creep into the ocean to remain above the ever flowing and receding tide. Its many Muslim mosques, Catholic chapels and small Evangelical worship centers testify to the necessity of faith in a community where many live a hand-to-mouth existence, resorting to any means in order to survive. It is Purok 1, Bucana that Jalila called home, and where she would rather be with her mother during the final stages of the deadly illness. She told me, “Nag-ampo ko makakita niya” (I am praying I will be able to see her).
In jail, Jalila was known as a quiet, cooperative inmate but had few visitors. Her sister was arrested with her, along with three brothers who were confined in the men’s facility. According to them, they were accused of running a family “business” (drug dealing), and the justice system was just trying to figure out which of them (if any) were the real culprits. Her remaining brother on the outside tried to stay involved with their case and help out, but he was a fisherman who plied the depths of Davao Gulf all night, and her mother was too weak and frail to make the trip across town to visit her. At age 39, Jalila was still single and had no children to make the effort to come offer a word of hope into her somber existence.
Like a majority of inmates in the Davao City Jail who rarely, if ever, get visitors, Jalila Maulani had been incarcerated far too long and yet not been found guilty. As the weeks stretched into months and then years, the jail itself became a second home and self-contained neighborhood. Fellow inmates, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) personnel and a few outreach programs and ministries became the community of support for people seemingly discarded by society, waiting in limbo for the wheels of justice to slowly turn.
At the time, Branch 9 in the Davao City Regional Trial Court was the “drug court” where Jalila was prosecuted, and had cases as old as 2003 still in process. Seven hundred backlogged cases were being heard two days a week by acting judge Rowena Adlawan as the court awaited the appointment of a new judge to replace her. Judge Adlawan did her best to process cases in Davao on Thursday and Friday, and at her regular post an hour away in Tagum City, on Monday through Wednesday. Jalila’s attorney made repeated motions for “release upon recognizance” to each of the judges that handled the case. They were all denied. There is no legal wiggle-room for the poor prosecuted under Section 5 of RA 9165 – life imprisonment is mandatory and no plea bargains allowed under statute.
By early 2012, Jalila’s cancer had progressed to stage IV – terminal breast cancer, and she had an open, bleeding wound that required constant care, at least twice a day, at a cost of P610 per month. The small jail infirmary and concerned ministry providers helped cover the costs: cleaning solution (watered down to make it last) – P100; bandages – P90; medical tape – P100; Betadine at 120ml/month – P160; cotton – P160. Occasionally, when the bleeding got heavy, she would take Hemostan (P37 per pill) to stop the flow, along with iron supplements for the resulting iron deficiency and blood loss. She complained of headaches and swelling in her hands, and as she told me her story, her older sister Jalima, now her nurse, peered out from between the window bars in the infirmary, nodding in confirmation.
So, Jalila, with Jalima faithfully at her side, spent her days in the small women’s infirmary, where she rested and occasionally took a walk, as the inmates grew concerned because of her dizziness and weakness. Meanwhile, the BJMP personnel noticed her paleness and shortness of breath, the tell tale signs that her body could no longer keep up with her depleted blood supply, the result of the ravaging attack of cancer. The doctor said she only had months to live, but it would probably not be the cancer itself that would kill her. Rather, she would slowly bleed to death, her life seeping into the cheap gauze and cotton paid for with money donated by concerned strangers and a seemingly indifferent system.
In the report where Jalila signed away her right to medical treatment the previous year, she wrote, “Si Allah na ang bahala sa akin,” meaning, “It is God’s will, God will take care of me.” As we ended one visit, I asked her if I could pass on anything to people on the outside. She paused, and whispered in a voice I could barely hear, “Kaloy-i ako… Gusto ko mabuhi” (Have mercy on me… I want to live).
The end is near, and so myself and another outreach worker decided to get her mother from her home in Bucana and bring her to the jail for a last visit with Jalila. The following morning we walked to her house along the crowded footpaths into Bucana. When we arrived, we were told that Jalila was already on her way there. But the reunion is not what we had hoped for, for the BJMP did not release her upon recognizance, but upon her death.
It is only during the brief Muslim viewing that Jalila’s mom sees her daughter for the last time, and then she was buried before the end of the day, as mandated by Islamic law. In an unmarked grave at the paupers’ cemetery tucked invisibly behind the cement mausoleums of the wealthy buried in Davao Memorial Gardens, her ghost haunts me with the words, like a whispering wind among the weeds along Ma-a road, “Si Allah na ang bahala sa akin.”
(Jeremy Simons is a restorative justice advocate based in Davao City and volunteers with the Archdiocesan Commission on Prison Welfare. He wrote this for the family of Jalila Maulani, who died in 2012, and all the invisible women whose lives slip away while under the jurisdiction of the Philippine criminal justice system.)