AI calls for release of PDLs amid COVID-19 outbreak in detention facilities

Published April 22, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin


By Chito Chavez

Stressing it to be a matter of life and death, human rights advocate Amnesty International urged the government to release sick and elderly persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in two detention facilities in Metro Manila.

The group said the outbreak was preceded by “multiple earlier warnings that an eruption of COVID-19 in the country’s jails or prisons could be disastrous due to dangerously high overcrowding and inadequate access to basic services such as food, water, hygiene, and healthcare.’’

In a statement, Amnesty International said authorities must urgently safeguard the health of PDLs amid the COVID-19 pandemic as Philippine jails and prisons can easily become hot spots for infection.

“On 21 April 2020, 18 prisoners and one jail staff tested positive for COVID-19 at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City. Three days before this, a 72-year-old inmate there was also confirmed to have the virus,’’ the statement said.

Amnesty International added that on April 18, authorities transferred 40 inmates from the Quezon City Jail to an isolation facility after nine of them and nine jail staff tested positive for COVID-19.

“The Quezon City jail has gained notoriety for shockingly high levels of overcrowding, where inmates have taken turns sleeping on staircases or on the floor of an open-air basketball court,’’ the group said.

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) spokesperson Xavier Solda said the bureau is amenable to all lawful efforts to decongest its jail facilities.

Solda explained that the bureau’s mandate is for the safekeeping of the PDLs, saying they can only be set free if the court issues release orders.

To at least minimize the congestion rate, Solda noted that efforts are being enforced to address the problem such as the construction of additional cells and jail buildings.

The group said that as of January 2020, the Bureau of Corrections has nearly 50,000 detainees for a congestion rate of over 300 percent.

“Over 100,000 more are detained in the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facilities according to reports which reflect a congestion rate of over 500 percent.’’

Amnesty International insisted that sick detainees and those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights must be immediately released.

“Authorities may also consider issuing non-custodial penalties for people charged with minor offenses. Measures should likewise be taken to protect persons deprived of their liberty against possible outbreaks of the virus. Those who cannot be released should have access to medical attention and healthcare of the highest attainable standards in line with people’s right to health, including access to diagnosis, prevention, and treatment,’’ the group added.

Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año had asked jail officials to prepare bigger prison cells to hold the increasing number of quarantine violators.