By Jeffrey Damicog
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been urged not to forget political prisoners once it implements this May 15 the Interim Rules on Parole and Executive Clemency which is expected to help expedite the decongestion of prisons.
“While we consider the measures laid down to decongest jail facilities, we would like to assert that, in the interest of justice and humane treatment, the release of the elderly and sick political prisoners should be foremost, especially with the intensifying dangers posed by the pandemic,” said Karapatan deputy secretary general Romeo Clamor in a statement on Friday, May 8.
“With the worsening conditions in jails, to exclude political prisoners in the list of those who should be released is an act of injustice, brutality, and lack of compassion. We assert that prisoners who have been incarcerated for their political beliefs are deserving of liberty as they were jailed on the basis of fabricated charges meant to silence them,” he also pointed out.
The human rights group cited that there are currently 609 political prisoners in the country including 53 elderly and at least 97 suffering from serious illnesses who are at risk from the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Karapatan made the call as it expressed concerns that the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) will exclude political prisoners from the implementation of the interim rules for being “high risk.”
Last April 23, the DOJ announced that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has approved and signed the April 15 Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) Resolution No. OT-04-15-2020 on the Interim Rules on Parole and Executive Clemency.
The interim rules is set to be implemented on May 15, 15 days after its publication in newspapers on May 30.
In its resolution, the BPP stated the interim rules is meant “to expedite the existing process of release of PDLs through parole or executive clemency” by
dispensing with most of the documentary requirements for applications for parole and executive clemency, except for the Court Certifications of No Pending Case and No Pending Appeal and a check on the records of the PDL at the National Bureau of Investigation.
The interim rules provide that PDLs who are eligible for parole or executive clemency review shall be covered by the interim rules.
Those covered under the interim rules are PDLs over 65 years old who have served at least five years of their sentence, or of those whose continued imprisonment is inimical to their health as certified by a physician certified the Department of Health or designated by the Malacanang Clinic Director.
“In the processing of parole or executive clemency review, priority shall be given to PDLs who are already of old age, sickly or are suffering from terminal or life-threatening illnesses, or with serious disability,” read the interim rules.
However, it states that “PDLs who have been convicted of Heinous Crimes or Illegal Drugs-related offenses, or are otherwise classified by the Bureau of Corrections as ‘high-risk’, shall not be covered by the Interim Rules.”
“It is dreadful to see this part not only because the resolution did not define who is considered as high-risk, but most importantly because of the relentless pronouncements of various government officials that maliciously tagged political prisoners as ‘high-risk inmates’ with the Office of the Solicitor General even saying that seeking their release is ‘merely opportunistic legalism to distort established judicial processes,” Clamor said.