Solon supports call to temporarily free ‘qualified’ detainees during COVID-19 crisis
MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker on Friday backed the recommendation of the House committee on justice to grant temporary freedom to “qualified” detainees to decongest jails and detention facilities in the country amid the novel coronavirus epidemic.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the country’s jail system “is a disaster waiting to happen” once a detainee contracts COVID-19.
“We should not wait like what the Department of Health (DOH) did in the early stages of the COVID crisis and be pro-active now or the ones infected will definitely increase as well as the death toll,” Zarate said in a statement.
Zarate also said he agrees to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call for authorities to reduce the number of people in detention as risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic persist worldwide.
In a separate statement, the Makabayan bloc also expressed its support to the House justice committee’s recommendation as well as the petition filed before the Supreme Court that likewise urged for the temporary release of qualified detainees at this time of crisis for humanitarian reasons.
Zarate belongs to the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.
“We, the Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives, call on the Duterte administration to heed the growing call of several sectors for the immediate release of vulnerable detainees and prisoners to prevent a grave disaster from happening in the country’s overcrowded jail facilities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the country and all over the world,” the Makabayan bloc said in a statement.
Relatives of political prisoners earlier filed a petition before the Supreme Court appealing for the temporary release of vulnerable detainees and prisoners during the pandemic.
“Again together with KAPATID we appeal to the Office of the President, the Department of Justice, the [Bureau of Corrections] and the [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] and the Supreme Court to initiate immediate steps for the mass release of low-level offenders as in the Iran example,” Zarate said.
KAPATID is an organization of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines.
“Plus the very elderly and the very sick, the accidental victims of political arrests or what GRP Peace Panel head Sec. Silvestre Bello terms as ‘riders’, and one spouse from each of the 10 political prisoner couples to allow one to care for the other and many of whom are also mere ‘riders’ in political arrests,” the lawmaker added.
To recall, the justice committee said in its recommendation submitted to the Peace and Order Cluster of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) of the House of Representatives that an ad hoc committee can be created “to immediately evaluate the situation of all provincial, city, and municipal jails, and other detention facilities, and to establish guidelines and procedures for the temporary release of qualified persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) for humanitarian reasons” amid the pandemic.
Among those who may be considered qualified for temporary liberty are:
- First-time offenders
- Those who are sixty (60) years of age and above
- Those with underlying health conditions associated with high risk of severe symptoms of COVID-19
- Those who are detained for the commission of non-violent, bailable offenses, but have no capacity to post bail
- Those with no history of jumping bail
“Given the extremely high transmissibility of COVID-19 in an ordinary public community setting, the current condition of our congested jails is a recipe for a catastrophic disaster-in-waiting,” the justice committee said.
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