Gov’t grants express lane to freedom for criminals and murderers, delays vulnerable prisoners’ plea humanitarian release

Human rights alliance Karapatan said that “while criminals and murderers like Joseph Scott Pemberton are given the express lane to freedom by none other than the highest official of the country, our own courts continue to cruelly neglect the petition of elderly, sick, and pregnant political prisoners for humanitarian release” as the group assailed the decision of the Supreme Court to remand the said petition to lower courts.

“This is simply atrocious! Imagine the agony of waiting for five long months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage our congested and overcrowded jails — only to receive a decision that only means more torturous waiting. It clearly seems that our own government would rather let elderly and sick prisoners suffer arduous legal processes while it shamelessly and speedily grants absolute pardon and freedom to criminals who trample upon our rights and sovereignty,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

In a statement on Thursday, September 10, the Supreme Court announced that it has referred the petition of elderly, sick, and pregnant prisoners for temporary release on humanitarian grounds to the lower courts where their respective criminal cases are pending — five months after the petition was filed on April 8. The high court directed trial courts to “conduct the necessary proceedings to resolve the incidents immediately.” The justices reached the decision last July 28, but the decision was only made public on Thursday.

Palabay asserted that the petition “was filed not just as a legal petition: more than anything else, it is a humanitarian plea. Prisoners, including detained peace consultants, activists, and human rights defenders, are facing a life and death situation in our jails where hundreds have already died and more continue to be infected by COVID-19 and other diseases. These vulnerable prisoners and their families are not only hoping to prove their innocence in our courts and legal proceedings but ultimately, to be able to live to participate in these proceedings to assert their innocence on the charges against them.”

“By prolonging response to their urgent call for humanitarian release amid this pandemic, political prisoners are already being punished for crimes they did not commit by bringing them closer and closer to death. As Pemberton flew back to the United States yesterday, his freedom is a reminder that justice is broken and impunity is alive in the country, especially under this fascist Duterte regime. Criminals and murderers get to walk away free, while activists and human rights defenders are being persecuted with false charges and imprisonment even in the middle of a pandemic,” the Karapatan officer ended.