Karapatan asserts call for political prisoners’ release as gov’t agencies relax rules for pardon, executive clemency

As the rules for pardon and executive clemency were reissued and relaxed in a bid to decongest jails in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights group Karapatan reiterated that political prisoners, especially the elderly and the sick who are most at risk of contracting the deadly and fast-spreading virus, should not be excluded.

“The efforts outlined by various government agencies as well as the Supreme Court are urgently needed, but the government should ensure that not one vulnerable individual is left behind in the process. The increasing number of deaths and confirmed COVID-19 cases inside detention facilities are more than enough bases to expedite all necessary efforts to address the concerns and well-being of those incarcerated in the country’s congested jails,” Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), per week starting May 15, 2020, will reportedly process at least 100 applications on relaxed guidelines based on the Interim Rules on Parole and Executive Clemency. The DOJ resolution of pardon and executive clemency application can now be availed by age 65 years old from 70 years old and trimmed down documentary requirements for parole and pardon review.

“While we consider the measures laid down to decongest jail facilities, we would like to assert that, in the interest of justice and humane treatment, the release of the elderly and sick political prisoners should be foremost, especially with the intensifying dangers posed by the pandemic,” he said.

The Karapatan official raised the alarm as the new guidelines will exclude those classified by the Bureau of Corrections as “high-risk.” “It is dreadful to see this part not only because the resolution did not define who is considered as high-risk, but most importantly because of the relentless pronouncements of various government officials that maliciously tagged political prisoners as ‘high-risk inmates’ with the Office of the Solicitor General even saying that seeking their release is ‘merely opportunistic legalism to distort established judicial processes,” Clamor added.

There are 609 political prisoners in the country, as of April 30, 2020. Of those, 53 are elderly while at least 97 suffer from serious illnesses that make them more at risk to the coronavirus disease.

“The outright efforts of the executive offices to lay the premise to block the release of political prisoners, whose incarceration is illegal and borne out of trumped-up charges, and those detainees who should have been freed after serving their prison sentences are discrimatory and alarming,” Clamor added.

“With the worsening conditions in jails, to exclude political prisoners in the list of those who should be released is an act of injustice, brutality, and lack of compassion. We assert that prisoners who have been incarcerated for their political beliefs are deserving of liberty as they were jailed on the basis of fabricated charges meant to silence them,” Clamor ended.