By Leslie Ann Aquino
Amid the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, church leaders called for the release of political prisoners and those detained because of their political beliefs or for simply expressing dissent as a way of decongesting jails.
In a statement, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said decongesting facilities will help “secure” the lives of detainees and jail personnel.
“We must muster courage to address the glaringly high risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, now forced upon those behind bars. For all that is humane, good, and loving, now is a moment for urgent action,” the Roman Catholic prelate said.
National Council of Churches in the Philippines General Secretary Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza said there is an urgent need to address the catastrophic risks in prisons by releasing prisoners, starting with the vulnerable groups such as the sick and elderly, low-level prisoners, and political prisoners,
particularly now that the country is confronting numerous challenges due to the pandemic.
“They need compassion, they need justice, and they need protection. They should be released under humanitarian grounds,” he said in a separate statement.
Marigza added that the congestion rate in prisons in the country by itself poses grave, potential, and unmanageable outbreaks.
Alminaza said saving lives through the release of political prisoners will send a “strong message” about the Duterte administration’s desire for “peace and goodwill” throughout the country.
The Duterte administration, he said, should act with utmost urgency, adding that an undeniable threat of catastrophe hovers over jails where social or physical distancing and self-isolation are spatially impossible.
“This is a matter of life and death calling for extraordinary measures. Such [a] call is integral to our dream of ‘a loving, merciful, pardoning, welcoming church.'” Alminaza said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-OHCHR) earlier called on the world’s governments to take urgent action to ensure health and safety in prisons and places of detention.