By Ellson Quismorio
Jail inmates in Metro Manila can now enjoy electronic visits or “e-dalaw” during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), thanks to the recent donation of 25 sets of computers to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) by a legal aid organization.
“The lockdown should not be an obstacle to justice. Where there are barriers, we must use the tools available to transcend prison walls and reach out to our PDL (persons deprived of liberty),” said Rep. Fidel Nograles (Rizal, 2nd district), founder of the Lakbay Hustisya Foundation.
Lakbay Hustisya Foundation is a legal aid trust fund organized to support legal aid activities around the Philippines.
Since the ECQ suspended jail visitation around Metro Manila, the neophyte solon and legal aid advocate sought to connect inmates with their lawyers through online consultations via Skype and other technologies such as the e-dalaw program of BJMP.
“The public have their cellular phones and computers for video calls with their loved ones and online consultations with professionals. The quarantine should not mean that the other rights of our PDL, such as their right to visitation, should be summarily dismissed, especially if we have the technology to bridge the communication gap,” the Harvard-trained lawyer said.
According to BJMP Spokesperson Xavier Solda, Lakbay Hustisya’s donation will go a long way in augmenting the scarce electronic and technological resources of jails and enhancing access to justice of PDL on account of the suspension of jail visitation rights due to the lockdown.
The jails around Metro Manila that received the donation are presently coordinating with Nograles’s office and the Humanitarian Legal Aid Foundation, which organized a joint legal team to provide free online legal services to PDL.
The lawmaker also reiterated the call of the House of Representatives’ Justice Committee to temporarily release prisoners who are vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus, particularly the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and low-level, non-violent, and first-time offenders.
“Besides being the humane thing to do, releasing these prisoners now could avert a major disaster. If the status quo persists we might be passing on an unintended death sentence not only on our prisoners, but also on our jail officers,” said Nograles, a vice chairman of the said committee.
According to the World Prison Brief of the London-based Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, the Philippines has the most congested prison system in the world, at a rate of 463.6 per cent, or more than four times the rated capacity of the country’s jail facilities.
“I hope President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Justice will address this potential time bomb immediately,” Nograles said.