By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Leila de Lima on Wednesday urged the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to consider releasing qualified detainees as part of the government’s efforts to combat the threat of COVID-19.
De Lima explained that persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the overcrowding of jails and detention centers in the country.
The former justice secretary said the IATF should heed the call of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to all governments to consider the welfare of those working in close facilities like prisons and similar detention facilities.
De Lima said the IATF should consider releasing elderly PDLs — those 70 years old and above — those with serious illness or disability, those who are detained on pre-conviction for minor non-violent offenses, and those convicted for minor non-violent crimes.
De Lima explained PDLs cannot afford the luxury of social or physical distancing to avoid the transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“Given the state of our jails and prisons, the infection rate will be catastrophic. We thus offer a solution: decongest our jails and prisons through a systematic release of qualified PDLs on humanitarian grounds,” she said.
Many governments, she said, have made arrangements to release detainees, adhering to calls of both local and foreign human rights organizations.
De Lima said UNHRC Commissioner Michelle Bachelet had said that authorities should determine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, especially the older detainees and those who are sick; and low-risk offenders.
Iran, last March 17, has released more than 85,000 prisoners and detainees as the coronavirus crisis escalated in their region.
Similarly, the Indonesian government has committed to release around 30,000 prisoners to “avoid a possible surge in coronavirus infections in its overcrowded prisons.”
Other countries, like the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Britain, Poland, Italy, Sri Lanka, and Yemen, among others, are also taking or considering similar measures to decongest their jails.
“If done properly we will be able to free up additional resources to improve the nutrition and sanitation in the jails and prisons for the remaining PDLs,” she said.
“This will also ease some pressure on the jail and prison health care facilities,” added the lawmaker, who is still detained.
De Lima said the government should exclude from the early release program those who have been detained or convicted of heinous crimes.
“With the number of arrests and detentions piling up, even during the enhanced community quarantine, and persons including Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and Bureau of Jail and Management Personnel (BJMP) officials and personnel presumably still going in and out of our jails and prisons on a regular basis, it is only a matter of time before COVID-19 infects our PDLs,” she said.