CHR calls for measures to protect prisoners from COVID-19
MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has called on the government to implement measures that would prevent persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) from contracting the latest coronavirus disease.
According to CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia on Tuesday, government officials may consider proposals from the House of Representatives’ committee on justice, which asks the executive branch to look on the possibility of releasing first-time offenders of non-violent crimes.
“The said initiative, stemming from the Committee on Justice in the House of Representatives, proposes to start looking into first-time offenders; those detained for the non-violent, bailable offenses but have no capacity to post bail; and those with no history of jumping bail. The elderly and those with existing health conditions, which COVID-19 infection may aggravate, are also being considered,” De Guia said in a statement.
“To avoid further decongestion, the government may also consider including the temporary release of curfew and ordinance violators after undergoing the necessary judicial process,” she added.
Several groups have asked the executive, particularly the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), to release PDLs amid the threat of COVID-19. Karapatan, a rights advocate organization, said last March 26 that cases around the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City is enough reason to test prisoners and place temporarily release them.
READ: BJMP disputes reports Taguig City jail employee has COVID-19
READ: COVID-19 cases around Camp Bagong Diwa enough reason to test prisoners, says group
The group said that international bodies and other countries like the United States have started releasing PDLs to prevent mass infection within jails.
Then last April 9, BJMP admitted that the death of an inmate inside the Quezon City Jail — one of the most congested jails in the country — could have been due to COVID-19. BJMP Spokesperson Xavier Solda said that at least 21 detainees are now in isolation and have been tested for possible COVID-19 infection.
CHR assured that they will continue monitoring the situation inside jails if releasing PDLs would not be considered as an option.
“But if modes of temporary release are not feasible, CHR commits to continue monitoring initiatives in preventing the spread of the virus inside jails and other detention facilities, to include procurement of appropriate personal protective equipment by concerned offices; implementation of ‘e-dalaw’ (online visitation); conduct of online filing before courts, especially on posting bail; and other prevention initiatives, such as the establishment of isolation facilities for PDLs exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms,” De Guia noted.
“We stress that the larger discussion on the welfare of PDLs goes beyond health conditions and should equally balance other rights in relation to having fair and speedy trials and means for reform and eventual reintegration,” she added.
As of Tuesday, the entire Luzon is still under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Department of Health officials said that there are now 5,223 infected patients — 335 of which have already died while at least 295 have recovered.
Worldwide, over 1.9 million individuals have been infected, while 119,700 have died from the disease and 449,472 have recovered from it.
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