By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Leila de Lima has reiterated her call for the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to release qualified detainees following reports that an inmate, who was suspected of contracting COVID-19, died recently.
De Lima said the silence of the country’s leaders regarding the situation of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) is “almost deafening.”
“I again call upon the IATF-EID to consider the immediate release of qualified PDLs. Hindi na po totoo na ‘100 percent safe’ ang ating mga kulungan mula sa (it’s not true that our prisons are 100 percent safe from) COVID-19,” de Lima emphasized.
“Ano pa ang hinihintay natin? Na dumami pa ang mag positibo sa COVID-19 sa mga bilangguan (What are we waiting for? That more prisoners become positive for COVID-19?)” she asked.
De Lima said the IATF can implement a staggered release of detainees and inmates, especially from regions such as the national capital region (NCR) that have overcrowded detention facilities and are also COVID-19 hotspots.
“Kung hindi pa kaya ang pagpapakawala sa mga kwalipikadong mga preso sa lahat ng mga detention facilities sa buong bansa, maaari natin simulan sa mga city jails sa NCR, (If they cannot release qualified prisoners in all detention facilities in the country, then maybe they can start with city jails in the NCR),” De Lima said.
“Marami sa kanila, tulad ng mga preso sa Quezon City Jail, ay mahihirap. (Most of them, like the prisoners in Quezon City Jail, are poor). Many of them are supposed to be out already, but they are not because they cannot afford bail,” she pointed out.
The former justice secretary, likewise, reminded the COVID-19 task force that the whole-of-nation approach in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic should take into account the situation of hundreds of thousands of PDLs.
“Malinaw ang hangad natin: Maiwasan o maagapan ang pagkalat ng sakit sa mga bilangguan kung saan matagal nang problema ang labis na pagsisiksikan at napakataas ng posibilidad ng pagkahawa-hawa (Our goal is clear: to prevent the spread of the disease in our congested prisons and where physical distancing is impossible, (thereby) making it possible for them to be infected),” she said.
Last April 1, De Lima urged the IATF-IED, to consider decongesting jails and prisons as part of its COVID-19 response program by systematically releasing qualified PDLs based on humanitarian grounds, with permission and approval from the Supreme Court.
The detainees or inmates whose release should be prioritized are those who are 70 years old or older; with serious sickness or disability; detained pre-conviction of minor, non-violent cases; and convicted for non-violent crimes.
De Lima emphasized that those who have been detained or convicted of heinous crimes, should not be included for consideration for early release.