By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Lawmakers urged on Saturday, April 18 the Supreme Court (SC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to authorize the temporary release of the vulnerable detainees and prisoners, particularly the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.
Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro called for the immediate release of low-risk and vulnerable prisoners after at least nine detainees at the Quezon City Jail tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
“We all know that our jails are overcrowded. A small space good for one detainee is occupied by four or more prisoners. There is no social distancing to speak of in our detention facilities. A single infected detainee will surely spread the virus to others. It was a disaster waiting to happen, and it already happened in Quezon City,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
Rodriguez, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments and vice chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said he rallied behind the proposed temporary release on bail of low-risk detainees to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s highly-congested jails.
He said the Quezon City Jail incident should prod the SC and DOJ to immediately order the release of low-risk and vulnerable prisoners.
“Based on data, senior citizens and those with underlying medical conditions are the most vulnerable,” he said.
Rodriguez, a former law dean, even urged the SC and DOJ to prescribe conditions under which detainees could be released and could be easily located and summoned to face their cases after the enhanced community quarantine is lifted.
He said the 1987 Constitution provides that “an offender is presumed innocent until proven guilty for those not yet finally convicted and for humanitarian reasons for those serving sentences after final judgment.”
“We would have wanted a speedier and accelerated process especially so that the contagion is starting already in some jails,” Rodriguez said.
For his part, Castro also sought the temporary freedom of all vulnerable prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Assistant Minority Leader took note of the decision of the SC to immediately hold an en banc meeting regarding the petition filed to release temporarily Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) who are vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Isang napakagandang desisyon na ito para sa ating mga kapatid na mga bilanggo para sa kanilang karapatan para sa buhay at sa kanilang kalusugan. Kaya muli, sana po ay temporarily na pong irelease ang ating mga kababayan na bulnerable sa COVID-19 na nasa bilangguan,” Castro said.
(This is a good decision that would benefit our detained brothers and sisters for their right to life and to health. We reiterate that our prisoners who are vulnerable to COVID-19 should be temporarily released.)
She noted that based on President Duterte’s report to Congress last April 7, there were 74 PDLs and 80 Bureau of Correction personnel who were suspected to have contracted COVID-19.