Karapatan supports calls for a clear plan and schedule for COVID-19 vaccines for PDLs

Human rights alliance Karapatan supported the call of families and friends of political prisoners for the government to enact a clear plan and schedule of the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines for Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs).

“The Philippine government should have a clear plan and schedule for prisoners, as they remain one of the most vulnerable populations in the continuing increase of COVID-19 infections. Human rights of PDLs are not cancelled inside jails, so is the threat of getting COVID-19 especially now,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay urged.

According to Palabay, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government, both at the helm of management of prisons and detention facilities and at the Inter-Agency Task Force, and also the Department of Health should get their acts together to categorically answer when and how will they inoculate prisoners.

“Prisons are ticking time bombs since the start of the pandemic. Even as jails remain in lockdown, jail congestion, almost no physical distancing and the already dire health conditions of prisoners pre-pandemic, are more than enough reasons to hasten plans and schedule for additional protection against the virus for thousands of PDLs nationwide,” Palabay said.

She also asserted that the Philippine government should conform with international guidelines especially of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health in Prisons Programme, which has recently updated its guidelines on the “Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention” on February 2021.

The WHO reiterated that “the provision of health care for people in prisons and other places of detention is a state responsibility,” and has underlined that “people in prisons and other places of detention should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the outside community, without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.”

“Visitors are still not allowed in jails, and it only takes one infected jail officer to be a superspreader, as health experts have repeatedly explained to the public. While prisoners may do whatever they can within their limited spaces and conditions to protect themselves, inoculating prisoners for added protection against COVID-19 is also protecting communities and the general population,” the Karapatan official stated.

Palabay also cited that the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has likewise identified detention facilities in its Stage III priority for vaccines due to their “inability to social distance,” next to low income persons in dense urban neighborhoods, homeless people and those living in informal settlement, and also other essential workers outside health and education sectors, like police officers and government workers essential to critical functioning of the State.

“The delivery of food, medicines, hygiene kits and other needs of prisoners should likewise be unhampered, especially now that families and friends are barred from visiting prisoners inside jails,” she averred.

“Likewise, we again assert the call to expedite the release of prisoners who have served their sentence, or those who unjustly remain in detention due to slow judicial processes. It is both a way to decongest prisons, and a path to justice for those who have been wrongfully incarcerated. We stand with the call that the immediate humanitarian release of prisoners who are elderly, sick, nursing mothers and pregnant women is timely, urgent, and just,” Palabay ended.