With 3 deaths, 242 coronavirus cases in jails, Karapatan asserts call for the release of prisoners

With at least three deaths and a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases in the country’s congested jails, human rights group Karapatan said it is high time for the government to definitively move for the release of prisoners, including political prisoners, especially those most at risk of contracting the disease that has infected thousands and has claimed hundreds of lives nationwide.

“As the dangers inside prisons worsen day by day, we strongly assert our call for the release of prisoners, including and especially political prisoners, and for the government to rethink its policies in addressing the intensifying threats of the virus inside jails. We would like to remind the Duterte regime that if it really cares for the health and well-being of prisoners, it should not always brag about its existing efforts as the increase in the confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths inside detention facilities are already a proof that these have failed,” said Karapatan Deputy Secretary-General Roneo Clamor.

As of Tuesday, April 28, the Bureau of Corrections reported at least three deaths, while 47 inmates remain positive for the virus. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, meanwhile, reported at least 233 prisoners and jail personnel who were infected with the virus. Of those who tested positive, 185 are detained at the Cebu City Jail, one at the Mandaue City Jail, and nine at the Quezon City Jail.

“If the government is certain, as officials pronounced, that inmates are safer inside prison facilities, especially with the existence of its efforts to contain the spread of the virus, why do we have confirmed coronavirus deaths and cases inside? The surge in cases and even the death of at least three inmates should make the government realize that the measures they have set in place are not enough to make sure that the prisoners, especially the elderly and sickly, are safe,” he said.

The Karapatan official asserted that with the congestion in prison facilities, most of the efforts to contain the spread of the virus are in no way possible. He said that the existing coronavirus cases inside jails should trigger the government to move for the releases of prisoners most at risk: “We wish that the government will not wait for the situation to get even worse. The three deaths and the 242 active cases in jails are not statistical data that should be set aside. With the impossibility of physical distancing and isolation, these numbers can surge, especially if without decongestion.”

“We call for the immediate decongestion of jails by releasing elderly and sickly detainees like the 22 political prisoners who filed a petition before the Supreme Court to seek temporary freedom on humanitarian grounds. Those political prisoners are similarly-situated with other detainees who suffer from unrelenting fears that are intensified because of their health conditions and advanced age. The trumped up and political nature of the charges against them should be likewise be considered,” he added.

Clamor particularly cited the situation of sick political prisoners such as 21-year-old Ge-Ann Perez, who suffers from leprosy and whose health situation has been compromised by military forces by depriving her of her medication and access to medical consultation, causing her ailment to relapse. She was arrested together with 72-year-old peace consultant Fr. Frank Fernandez, who is likewise suffering from various physical ailments, and his wife Cleofe Lagtapon on March 24, 2019. Perez is presently detained at the Taguig City Jail - Female Dorm in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

Another case is that of Gerardo Dela Peña, an 80-year old political detainee at the New Bilibid Prison, the prison facility where the first detainee who died of the coronavirus disease came from. Dela Peña was arrested in 2013 and was convicted at the age of 74. He has hypertension, along with several other ailments.

“All of the prisoners in the country are entitled to their rights, including their right to life. We demand that the government cease denying them of their rights by stalling their release on humanitarian grounds. This time calls for comprehensive and inclusive responses as it involves the welfare of thousands of individuals, including those detained,” Clamor ended.