By Leslie Ann G. Aquino
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines – Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (CBCP-ECPPC) has joined calls for the immediate release of vulnerable inmates in view of the growing number of persons deprived of liberty (PDL) testing positive of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
CBCP-ECPPC Chairman Bishop Joel Baylon said they support such calls citing the general condition of detention facilities in the country which are cramped, overly congested and mostly unkempt.
“We join the call from other cause-oriented human rights groups for the expeditious release of vulnerable inmates who are ill, old, as well as the youth in conflict with law, and low-risk offenders,” he said in a statement.
“We call on the jail and prison authorities to implement this with great prudence, always taking into consideration the best interest of all PDLs,” Baylon added.
In releasing qualified PDLs, the CBCP-ECPPC also proposed that priority should be given to those who were earlier granted release through the benefits of the good conduct time allowances (GCTA), but were subsequently ordered re-arrested as well as those who are already qualified for Executive Clemency and favorably recommended by the Board of Pardons and Parole.
Baylon said support services should also be given to those who will be released, like those national prisoners who will have to travel back to their provinces.
“This can be in the form of transport services and inclusion in the Pantawid Buhay program of the government,” he said.
As to the housing of COVID-19 positive PDLs, Baylon proposed that they be placed in medical facilities and not in penal institutions so that their needs can be attended to properly.
“With the terrible congestion in our penal institutions, the transmission to other inmates is very high and it will be very catastrophic.” he said.
The Free Legal Assistance Group had earlier asked the Supreme Court to look into requests for the release of qualified prisoners to decongest detention facilities in the country amid the threat of COVID-19.