SC asked to temporary allow release of ‘vulnerable members of prison population’
MANILA, Philippines – A petition has been filed with the Supreme Court seeking the temporary release of vulnerable members of the prison population such as the elderly and the sick amid the threat of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) spread in congested jails.
The petition was filed by a group of political prisoners and detainees who are elderly, sick or pregnant–assisted by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).
“Petitioners are praying for a fair chance at surviving the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in spaces that are not blighted with overcrowding and lack of access to hygiene measures and medical care,” read the petition.
“If the Honorable Court has applied equity to prevent unjust enrichment or to afford litigants full ventilation of their causes, it can certainly do the same for a far more persuasive reason: to extend the humanity of the law to petitioners amidst the raging pandemic,” the petition further stated.
Listed as petitioners at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and at the Manila City jail are the following:
Dionisio S. Almonte, 62 years old, who has non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy; Ireneo O. Atadero Jr., 57, hypertensive with type 2 diabetes mellitus; Alexander Ramonita K. Birondo, 68, with bronchial asthma and dyslipidemia;
Winona Marie O. Birondo, 61, with bronchial asthma cellulitis and dyslipidemia; Rey Claro C. Casambre, 68, with diabetes mellitus with vascular and neurologic complications; Ferdinand T. Castillo, 60, with hypertension; Francisco O. Fernandez Jr, 71, with hypertensive cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Renante Gamara, 62;
Vicente P. Ladlad, 70, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, particularly emphysema as well as hypertension; Cleofe S. Lagtapon, 66;
Ediesel R. Legaspi, 62, with hypertension; Adelberto Silva, 72, with hypertension and had post triple percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty and post myocardial infarction in 2002;
Alberto L. Villamor, 63, with type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension stage 2, micro alburminuria, dermatophy and neuropathy; Virginia B. Villamor, 65, hypertensive with bronchial asthma and has chronic recurrent major depressive disorder;
Emmanuel Bacarra, 55, hypertensive heart disease stage 1, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus type 2, TC Benign prostatic hypertrophy and osteoarthritis; Oliver Rosales, 48, with ischemic heart disease, peripheral neuropathy and acid peptic disease;
Oscar Belleza, 63, with hypertension, post craniotomy due to sub acute subdural hematoma left fronto parietal area, and who also suffered cerebrovascular accident, and mass in his right infraauricular area;
Norberto A. Murillo, 66, with hypertension and diabetes mellitus type 2;
Dario Tomada, 60 years old, with diabetes mellitus type 2, bronchial asthma, T/C chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
On the other hand, a 21-year-old inmate has leprosy while a 22-year-old detainee is five months pregnant.
Only 73-year old Lilia Bucatcat is under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
They are charged with various offenses such as illegal possession of firearms, murder due to their alleged involvement with the New People’s Army.
“Considering that their cases are still pending before the trial courts, they are presumed innocent and are entitled to the fundamental rights to life and liberty,” read the petition.
It added that the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has already implemented measures to ensure that the virus will not spread into its detention facilities.
“While these measures help minimize the possibility of the spread of COVID-19 in jails, without further medical and health measures, the prisoners are still at high risk of getting infected. The recent death of an inmate in Quezon City Jail already serves as a warning to put in place effective and preemptive measures in jails,” they added as they pointed out that congestion rate in BJMP’s 467 jails is at 534 percent.
BJMP and the BuCor have already imposed a total lockdown but petitioners said it is not enough.
The petitioners added that other countries are also moving around the call of the UN Human Rights Commissioner to release vulnerable prison population and hope that the Supreme Court will “likewise do the same for the Philippines.”
They added that based on the pronouncements of the World Health Organization and the Philippines’ Department of Health, “the most vulnerable (to COVID-19 infection) are those who are 60 years of age and above, those who are sick and with co-morbidities such as hypertension, asthma and other respiratory illness, and cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and those who are pregnant.”
The threat, it said, exponentially grows in prison conditions because of congestion, lack of proper nutrition, sanitation facilities, access to medicine, and medical facilities.
It also said that “while COVID-19 prevention requires frequent hand washing and drinking of water, prisons lack steady supply of water as well as cleaning facilities like soap.”
“The right to health and medical care in prisons is guaranteed under the right to life. The UN Human Rights Committee imposes upon the State detaining an individual to take responsibility to care for their life and well-being,” it also said.
Meanwhile, BJMP Spokesperson Xavier Solda said they will support “any legal measures to decongest the jails but we find it necessary too, to study first, any propositions that is not within the bounds of existing laws.”
He said, one of the issues here is “how to present strong evidence to convince the court that those who will be released after having been detained or convicted for low-level and non-violent offenses will not endanger the public or at the very least, will not commit any crime during this public health emergency.”
For now, he said the detainees are safer inside their detention.
“If they will be out, as some groups is proposing, how can these groups assure the public that those persons deprived of liberty who will be released will not contract the virus,” he asked.
“We are deeply concerned about the PDL under our care that is why we are doing our best to strictly implement all precautionary measures to protect our facility from the virus and we are thankful that up to this date, we have no record of PDL with COVID 19 inside our jails,” Solda added.
On the other hand, BuCor Spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag said “BuCor will only execute or implement orders of the courts and from the DOJ (Department of Justice.)”
“We will also follow the DOH (Department of Health) rules on who should be tested…So Far there is no candidate for COVID-19 test and there are no COVID-19 in BuCor so far. We pray, hope and intend to remain that way,” he said.
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