A human rights group has renewed its call for the government to free all political prisoners in the country “on just and humanitarian grounds’’ after United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the Duterte administration to release inmates in overcrowded detention centres.
A physician and former political prisoner herself, Bachelet noted that the prisoners are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) virus since they are incarcerated in large numbers in closed buildings, human rights group Karapatan said in a statement, Manila Bulletin reported.
“We welcome the call of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the release of prisoners and those other populations housed in closed centers to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Contrary to claims that detainees are safer from the pandemic, we assert that the necessary measures to combat the disease such as social distancing and self-quarantine policies are impossible in the country’s overcrowded and highly congested detention facilities, making them fertile grounds for disease outbreaks,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
Bachelet said the Covid-19 pandemic has started to affect “prisons, jails, and immigration detention centres, as well as homes for the elderly, psychiatric hospitals, and other closed centres.”
She warned the effects of keeping them in closed buildings would have “catastrophic consequences.”
Bachelet stressed that “more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.”
Earlier, Karapatan asserted, “that political prisoners, especially the elderly, sick with chronic, debilitating or terminal medical conditions, pregnant and nursing mothers, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner couples and accidental victims of political arrests should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds as the country, along with other nations, faces the threats posed by the pandemic.”
Karapatan’s data as of March 2020 revealed that there are 610 political prisoners in the Philippines with 102 of them sick, many with life-threatening and debilitating illnesses, and 48 elderly.
In 2019, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) recorded a 394% congestion rate, with the Cebu City Jail having nearly 6,000 inmates while the Manila City Jail houses over 5,000.
Quezon City Jail, the third most populated prison in the country, has nearly 3,700 detainees.
The group said medical reports showed that about 5,200 inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City die annually due to overcrowding, disease and violence.
“The overcrowding in prison has led to unmanageable outbreaks of pulmonary tuberculosis last year,” Karapatan said.
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