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  • Charisse Domingo

Participatory Defense in the Philippines

By Charisse Domingo

Editors Note: De-Bug's Charisse Domingo shares a photo essay from her recent trip to the Philippines where she shared about the participatory defense organizing model with local organizers and had the opportunity to visit various carceral facilities and meet those enduring incarceration.


In December 2023, we were invited to share our participatory defense model of organizing as part of a national discussion on decarceration. The previous government had waged an extremely lethal 'war on drugs' that criminalized substance abuse and greenlighted killings. One result of that has been ballooning overcrowding rates in both the prisons and the jails -- 300+ percent over capacity. The new regime hopes to undo the laws and policies that led to this crisis.

While there, we observed drug court, where all charges heard were exclusively for drug related charges. Most drug charges did not allow bail - so individuals (called 'persons deprived of liberty' or PDL) were forced to languish in jails awaiting their day (sometimes their first day) in court for months. While here in the US it takes up to 48 hours for arraignment, in Manila it is 1-2 months for your first court date. We also heard repeated stories of police corruption - from false arrests, beatings, and fabricated reports that result in detentions.

We also saw the local City Jail and the Bilibid Prison - two of the most overcrowded facilities in the country. The jail holds individuals pretrial, while the prison is for those who had already been convicted. It is one thing to see overcrowding as numbers on paper, but it is another to see it live and hear the experiences from individuals. You can feel it in their tiredness of their bodies.

We were humbled to share our work - to offer a true and meaningful way for families to impact the system and bring their loved ones home. The December trip was a first step, and we look forward to building with kababayan during this pivotal moment in history.

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