TURNING POINT: Coping with the Killing Weather

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 12 May) – The scorching summer heat clearly underscores the divide of social classes and defines their plight.

Health experts are telling us that as much as possible, we should avoid the sun and places that get overly hot this summer. But how many can really heed this advice?

The elderly, especially those who are suffering from hypertension, lung problems and other debilitating health issues, are vulnerable to heat stroke and cardiac arrest; they ought to stay in cool places, we are told..

Of course, the well-off can wave off the sun and may remain cool inside their air-conditioned rooms or cool themselves in their private pools or tub when the heat becomes unbearable. But how would they cool themselves – those who live in “barongbarong” or makeshift dwellings, made of rusty fire-salvaged iron sheets, without power and piped water connection? 

In slums, not only is the heat killing but the stink of the place also becomes suffocating  as the shack simmers in rising temperature. Where would the elderly and the sick go to escape from such an inferno?

Workwise, the rich and the middle class may continue to earn their pay inside air-conditioned offices or in well-ventilated workplaces. They may even be given an option to work from the comfort of their home. Not so the common wage earners, like the construction workers, stevedores, street peddlers and pedicab drivers, among others, they have no choice but to toil under the scorching sun to earn their keep.

The farmers in the villages are better off than their counterparts in the urban areas. They design their own work schedule. They may start working at 4 in the morning; take a break from 9 am to 3 pm and may resume working until 7 in the evening. Meanwhile, if the temperature inside the house becomes uncomfortable, the family seeks refuge under the shade of trees or inside a nipa shack built for such eventuality.

The sector, however,  of our society that is worse hit by the heat are the inmates of extremely congested city jails run by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), such as the jails of Quezon City, Caloocan City and Pasay City, to name a few. 

The detention centers of the BJMP keep inmates who are waiting for their trial or the final resolution of their cases. Some have languished in their cell for 10-15 years waiting for an appearance in court. Those committed to the institution are kept together in one place regardless of the type of their offenses. The number increases every day, as crimes are being committed daily, but hardly an inmate is released in a day, because the courts are clogged with many long standing cases and are short of judges to try and resolve them. 

That’s why a cell, supposedly designed for 4 detainees, may be filled with as many as 20-30. It is “standing room only.” There is no space to sleep, unless they take turns, meaning, a group has to remain standing, so another can curl on the floor for an hour or two. Even toilets in some city jails are crammed with detainees and used as sleeping quarters. The cells simmer with suffocating and nauseating human heat at all times. Imagine how it is in the summer months.

The situation of BJMP jails worsened at the intensity of the Duterte drug war. The jails overflowed with the so-called scums of the earth because those who survived the extrajudicial killing were dumped there. Accordingly, some detained drug suspects would have preferred extrajudicial killing over being packed like sardines and suffocate and wilt in their simmering cell. The former is instant end, while the latter is slow torture to the end.

Prisoners are appropriately called persons deprived of liberty (PDL).

It’s distressing and sad that those inmates in city jails are already punished inhumanely before being tried or convicted, that is, they are deprived not just of their liberty to live as free individuals but also of their basic need for personal hygiene, for a time and a place to sleep, or even just to breathe normally.

We can only hope that the conscience of government authorities, that of Congress and the Executive Department is pricked by the summer heat, so as to propel them to action in easing the plight of untried persons who are already deprived of their liberty.

(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)