UN, rights advocates appeal to release vulnerable prisoners to fight spread of COVID-19

Apr. 14, 2020

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The United Nations (UN) and Philippine rights advocates await the answer of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte on the appeal to release vulnerable prisoners, including political detainees, as the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continues to pose a threat to the country.

“We are racing against a time bomb and with every day that passes where vulnerable detainees are kept behind bars, the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic grows deadlier in our congested prisons,” said Cristina Palabay, Secretary-General of rights group Karapatan, in a statement.

Citing the 450% jail congestion rate nationwide in October last year, as per report of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Palabay called on concerned agencies to act fast on the House of Representatives Justice Committee’s recommendation dated April 6 to grant temporary release of “persons deprived of liberty to decongest the country’s overcrowded jails.”

“The government has a duty to uphold the life and security of prisoners and we cannot afford to lose more lives,” Palabay said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to release prisoners in detention facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Included in her appeal is to release prisoners “detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.”

Karapatan echoed Bachelet’s call and has urged the House committee and all concerned agencies to include the political prisoners in their priorities especially many of them are sick, elderly, and vulnerable to diseases.

As of March 28, Karapatan said there are 609 political prisoners detained in various detention facilities in the country, 100 of which are women, 47 are elderly, while 63 suffer from serious medical conditions.

Palabay said that “political prisoners are unjustly detained for manufactured and fabricated charges to malign their human rights work and political activism.”

She noted they have long been calling for their release “on just and humanitarian grounds.”

The Makabayan bloc in Congress also supported the recommendation of the House committee, to “prevent a grave disaster” from happening inside overcrowded jails amid the pandemic.

They also expressed strong support to the petition filed before the Supreme Court urging the release of political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds. The said petition was filed on April 8 by Kapatid, an organization of relatives of political prisoners.

“As aptly pointed by the UN, just like in other countries, jail facilities in the Philippines are also severely overcrowded, even unsanitary, filled with an aging population who are mostly from impoverished sectors with a history of poor health care and who suffer from respiratory ailments and other health problems,” said the Makabayan bloc in a statement. (davaotoday.com)

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