PHILIPPINE STAR/ EDD GUMBAN

THE PHILIPPINES’ Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) on Wednesday said it plans to release 500 more inmates by yearend as it tries to decongest one of the world’s most crowded jail system.

The bureau is also considering parole and clemency for elderly prisoners, national prison officer-in-charge Gregorio Pio P. Catapang told a televised news briefing,

“This is what Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla ordered me to do,”  he said in Filipino. “If it could be done, we should free the elderly inmates aged 65 to 70.”

“The marching orders given to me are to keep reforming BuCor and to decongest our jails,” he added.

The Justice chief earlier said the Department of Justice (DoJ) was studying the “supervised release” of inmates aged 65 to 70, citing a decrease in crimes committed by people under the age group.

Last week, BuCor released 234 prisoners who served their sentences from seven prisons.

Mr. Remulla earlier told the United Nations Human Rights Council he seeks to release 5,000 inmates by June of next year.

He said there were efforts to decongest the country’s jails and that he wanted to change the culture of the local justice system, which he said was prone to delays.

The government has released more than 700 inmates in the past two months.

Many of the country’s jails fail to meet the UN’s minimum standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch.

With 215,000 prisoners nationwide, Philippine jails and prisons are overfilled more than five times their official capacity, making them the most overcrowded prison system in the world, according to the World Prison Brief.

In August, Mr. Remulla said the DoJ would build a P2.5-billion “world-class” maximum security facility in the town of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro. It also plans to move the national penitentiary’s minimum security facility to Nueva Ecija in northern Philippines.

The Commission on Human rights has repeatedly flagged the worsening congestion in the country’s jails, more recently spurred by the arrests of suspects in ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands.

“We hope that what we are doing here at BuCor will be meaningful since those imprisoned should have the hope to be free and rejoin our society,” Mr. Remulla said in mixed English and Filipino during the release of more than 200 inmates at the national penitentiary on Nov. 24. — John Victor D. Ordoñez