In­mates bring Christ­mas cheer to Philip­pine prison with beauty pageant

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

In­mates dressed as beauty queens pranced on a makeshift stage for a mock beauty pageant at a Philippines jail yes­ter­day, bring­ing Christ­mas cheer to one of the coun­try's most over­crowded pris­ons.

Thou­sands cheered and whis­tled as 11 gay and one trans­gen­der pris­oner danced and sang at the "Miss Uni­verse" pageant at the Que­zon City Jail court­yard, wear­ing wigs, make-up, gowns and elab­o­rate Mardi Gras at­tire.

The de­cay­ing Manila jail, hous­ing about 3,800 in­mates, is in­fa­mous for con­ges­tion. Men take turns sleep­ing in the cells, an open-air bas­ket­ball court and even on stair­ways of the fa­cil­ity, built to hold 800 pris­on­ers. "It's lonely in here but I'm happy that I won," the win­ner called Gwen, whose real name can­not be used due to prison pol­icy, told AFP.

Gwen, ar­rested nearly two years ago and on trial for drug deal­ing, said his victory had brought "ac­claim for my brigade", re­fer­ring to his gang. All 12 of the gangs in the prison were al­lowed to en­ter one con­tes­tant to the gay beauty pageant, or­ga­nized by a jail con­trac­tor. "This is part of in­mate wel­fare de­vel­op­ment. Once they join ac­tiv­i­ties like this they get less jail time through the good con­duct time al­lowance law," said the ser­vice provider, Fer­di­nand Abe­jon.

The Que­zon City Jail holds de­fen­dants of crim­i­nal cases but who have not yet been con­victed. Due to over­bur­dened courts many of the in­mates have been locked up there for years. The Philip­pine pe­nal sys­tem is the third most con­gested in the world, ac­cord­ing to the Univer­sity of Lon­don's In­sti­tute for Crim­i­nal Pol­icy Re­search.

Jails na­tion­wide have nearly five times more in­mates than they were built for, govern­ment data shows. The sit­u­a­tion is set to get much worse with po­lice hav­ing ar­rested more than 40,000 sus­pects since Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte launched a war on drugs that has also left more than 5,300 peo­ple dead since July.

The real Miss Uni­verse pageant is a pop­u­lar con­test in the Philippines, with Filip­ina beauty queen Pia Wurtzbach win­ning the crown last year. Manila is host­ing the an­nual con­test next month. — AFP

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