Release light offenders to stem COVID-19 outbreak in prisons — Recto

Published July 22, 2020, 3:49 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday called for the release of light offenders and vulnerable inmates to stem the transmission of COVID-19 in the country’s penal facilities.

Senate Ralph Recto (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Recto, in a statement, said the inmates could turn into “Persons Deprived of Life” if the government delays its action on the crowded jails that have been penetrated by the novel coronavirus.

“Our congested jails—where prisoners are no longer packed like sardines, but are stuffed like Spam in a can—are petri dishes for the coronavirus,” the Senate leader said.

“Our jails are full of people charged with petty crimes, like small-scale estafa or possession of a stick of marijuana. Although there is no verdict yet, they, however, are in real danger of being sentenced to death by COVID,” he added.

The virus, he said, does not only affect the inmates, but also the jail guards.

“There is no vaccine yet against this disease. But in the case of jails, there is one non-medicinal option that can prevent its spread, and that is to release those who have reached the minimum jail time if convicted, the old, the senile, and the sick,” he appealed.

Recto recalled the circular issued by the Supreme Court in 2014, which spells out guidelines for decongesting jails. “There is room for expansion of this order, to cover other qualified detainees, on humanitarian grounds, balanced with public safety,” he said.

In issuing the appeal, he stressed that the “aim of restorative justice is to change them, and not to cause their cremation.”

He said the same should also be implemented by the Philippine National Police for the more than 3,000 quarantine violators that policemen have locked up in their detention cells.

“Kung nahuli ang mga ito sa mga checkpoints, inabutan ng curfew dahil walang masakyan at naglakad na lang, o walang pambili ng masks (If they are arrested in checkpoints, or for violating the curfew because they cannot hail a ride and merely walked, or because they cannot afford to buy face masks), the ends of justice require their release.”

“If physical distancing is impossible in crammed police stations, where offices and detention rooms are separated only by bars, then these are outbreaks waiting to happen—putting our policemen in harm’s way and further congesting our already full hospitals,” he pointed out.

Besides reducing the spread of the disease, Recto said the release of prisoners will also be a “good expenditure policy,” since the government will save funds from its expenses for maintaining the detention facilities.

Calls for the temporary release of prisoners have mounted as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the country’s jails. It was recently reported that over 300 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the facilities under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), 19 of them dying to the disease.

The deceased included high-profile inmates in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), who were immediately sent to cremation by the BuCor.