OSG, Calida’s double standard of justice endangers lives of political prisoners — Karapatan

Karapatan criticized Solicitor General Jose Calida and his office’s opposition to the urgent petition filed by 22 elderly and sick political prisoners at the Supreme Court as a form of “double standard of justice” that endangers lives of prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 8, the petitioners asked the SC to release the elderly and ailing political prisoners on humanitarian grounds. The OSG’s comment was sent to the High Court on April 24, 2020. Counsels of the petitioners led by the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers filed their reply to the OSG’s comment today. 

“When Calida and his cohorts at the OSG asserted in their comment that the SC’s bail remedy for Juan Ponce Enrile, chief implementer of Marcos’s martial law, is not applicable to the elderly and sick respondents in this case, they reiterated the basic concept of injustice of this administration – that it is partial to its allies, especially for the moneyed and powerful among them, while sick and ailing detained activists cannot be accorded the same. Such double standard of justice is pronounced in the whole text of the OSG’s comment; it is likewise a trademark of the Duterte administration’s convoluted concept of governance and justice,” said Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor. 

On Friday, April 24, the Office of the Solicitor General, in its comment submitted to the Supreme Court, said the Court’s ruling in Enrile vs Sandiganbayan “should not be relied upon as precedent to govern other cases” and thus should not be applied in the political prisoners’ petition.

“The OSG also tramples on the basic rights of anyone accused of any offense – that one is deemed innocent while court trials against them are ongoing and there is finality of judgment in their specific cases. In its comment, the OSG has pre-judged the petitioners and has brandished their trumped-up accusations against them as facts,” Clamor said. 

Karapatan also said that “it is outrageous that despite the obvious increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in detention facilities, the government, in its bid to stall the petition seeking the release of prisoners on humanitarian grounds, bragged all of its belated efforts to protect prisoners in jails in the country while negating their concerns and fears inside the congested penal facilities.” 

The OSG said that while it is true that the country’s prison facilities are highly congested, the congestion in those facilities is not among the grounds to release inmates, saying that the government already adopted measures to protect prison facilities from the coronavirus disease and that seeking release on humanitarian grounds is “merely opportunistic legalism to distort established judicial processes.”

“We would like to reiterate that seeking the release of prisoners susceptible to the disease is not in any way opportunistic. It is the just, humane, and rational way forward. In this time that the dangers of the pandemic already reached detention facilities which authorities claimed to be "safe" for prisoners, jail decongestion, and the releases of political prisoners, is a matter of life and death and that it should be considered at the most immediate time possible. Besides, as far as we know even prior to this COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court takes cognizance of the fact that jail decongestion must be addressed through readily available legal remedies. It is a matter of right of every prisoner to avail whatever legal remedies are accorded to them." said Clamor.

“To discredit the clamor of political prisoners on the basis of obviously malicious claims and trumped-up cases lodged to persecute them for their advocacies and political beliefs is to discredit the fears and concerns of all prisoners whose lives are now at risk because of the lethal and fast-spreading disease,” he added.

As of Saturday, April 25, there are more than 240 confirmed coronavirus cases in prisons nationwide with at least one recorded death at the New Bilibid Prisons. 22 of them are from the Bureau of Correction facilities; 9 from the Quezon City Jail; and some 210 from the Cebu City Jail.

“Time is of the essence as jails are now considered ticking time-bombs. We would like to remind the Duterte government that decongesting prison facilities is the most humane way, as it is paramount in upholding the prisoners’ right to life. Stop bragging about the government’s belated and inadequate efforts as the increasing number in cases in jails is already a proof that these have failed. Release the political prisoners now!” Clamor ended.