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COVID-19: Rights group urges gov’t to expedite process of releasing inmates

/ 06:00 PM April 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights group KAPATID has pressed the national government and prison agencies to hasten the processing for the release of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), following the confirmation of 18 cases of COVID-19 at the Quezon City Jail.

“Very early on KAPATID forewarned that NO lockdown of prison can keep out the #COVID19 contagion. No prison is a closed environment when personnel have to come and go for work and the very communities surrounding prison camps already report suspected and confirmed cases,” the group said in a statement on Saturday.

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“We stressed to start extensive testing of both inmates and personnel to immediately isolate and reduce the spread of infection instead of irresponsibly insisting that prisons are ‘100% safe’ from the lethal coronavirus,” KAPATID added.

The rights group said the government should “get its act together” and follow the steps of other countries to release the most vulnerable, elderly and sick PDLs.

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“If even war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Libya have released prisoners, what is stopping the Philippines from moving in the same direction to avert a HUMANITARIAN CRISIS of massive proportions in the world’s most congested prison system?” KAPATID stressed.

Among the 18 COVID-19 patients from the Quezon City Jail are nine PDLs and nine Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) personnel, BJMP said Friday. The infected PDLs were among the 21 inmates put in isolation for being in close contact with an inmate, who was suspected of dying from COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
BJMP spokesperson Major Insp. Xavier Solda also said they will be conducting random testing on PDLs at the Quezon City Jail following the report.

“As the Supreme Court is pressed to move more rapidly on our petition for humanitarian releases, which will benefit vulnerable prisoners as a whole and not just the political prisoners, KAPATID appeals to prison agencies and the DOJ, including the Public Attorney’s Office, to fast-track the listing and legal action needed on at-risk prisoners,” KAPATID said.The rights group said authorities should start processing the necessary paperwork for PDLs who are elderly, sick, pregnant, low-level offenders, those already eligible for release and parole, the incidental victims of political arrest, as well as “the wife from 12 political prisoner couples to allow her to help her imprisoned husband and family during this extreme public health crisis.”

“Get moving. Be pro-active. The virus won’t wait on you,” the group noted.
Senator Leila De Lima early in April also called for the “systematic release” of PDLs to combat the spread of COVID-19 amid the poor conditions of the country’s jail facilities.
As of March, BJMP facilities all over the country have a congestion rate of 534%, according to the bureau. In Metro Manila, BJMP recorded a congestion rate of 608% in April 2019.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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