SC chief urged to tackle bid for temporary release of PDLs during COVID-19 crisis
MANILA, Philippines — A group of lawyers has asked Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to convene a council which he chairs to take up the possible granting of temporary freedom for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) during the COVID-19 crisis.
Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer and former SC spokesperson Theodore Te on Wednesday said his group wrote to Peralta, asking him to convene the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) to discuss the matter.
In its letter, which copy was posted by Te on Twitter, FLAG expressed worry that high jail congestion may bring about widespread novel coronavirus infection.
“[FLAG] has asked the Chief Justice to consider convening the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC), which he chairs, to address the pleas for early release or humanitarian treatment of inmates during this pandemic,” Te said in a tweet.
FLAG also said in the letter that high jail congestion rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic violates Article III, Section 19 of the 1987 Constitution, as these may result in the inhumane treatment of PDLs.
“With all due respect, we believe that the solution may lie in coming up with an interim policy on jail decongestion that takes into account a nationwide profile of inmates, the nature of their cases, their personal health status, as well as special circumstances that may warrant either an early release or humanitarian treatment,” FLAG appealed.
“We respectfully submit that convening the JSCC to discuss strategies and plans and ways forward on this and other related areas and also to consult with stakeholders such as the families of those inmates affected may provide a humane, helpful, and humanitarian approach towards jail decongestion and treatment of prisoners during this pandemic,” it added.
Various sectors — from lawmakers, activists, and other rights groups — have called for the temporary release of PDLs to avoid mass infection.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which manages 468 district, city, and municipal jails nationwide, admitted on April 9 that the death of one PDL may be due to COVID-19.
BJMP Spokesperson Xavier Solda said at least 21 detainees are now in isolation and have been tested for possible coronavirus infection.
To date, the Philippines has 5,660 people positive for coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes respiratory illness COVID-19.
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