Prelate calls for inclusion of PDLs in mass vaccination program

Published March 3, 2021, 8:35 PM

by Leslie Ann Aquino

A Catholic prelate said Wednesday, March 3, persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) should also be included in the mass vaccination program of the government.

Bishop Joel “Bong” Baylon (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Bishop Joel Baylon, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, said PDLs should be included because they are vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) due to the situation in the country’s jails.

“It goes without saying that even PDLs deserve to receive assistance just like any other ordinary citizen, especially because their situation (in many congested jails) makes them ever vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus,” he said in an interview Wednesday, March 3.

Last year, Baylon joined calls for the immediate release of vulnerable inmates in view of the growing number of PDLs testing positive of the COVID-19.

He also cited the general condition of detention facilities in the country which are cramped, overly congested and mostly unkempt.

Baylon also proposed that COVID-19 positive PDLs 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.

On Tuesday, March 2, the group KAPATID also sought the inclusion of prisoners in COVID-19 mass vaccination program.

In a letter sent to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Fides Lim, the group’s spokesperson, said that “the 215,000 plus prisoners, including the 680 political prisoners, should not be denied their right to get a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as they are clearly not spared from the dangers posed by the contagious and deadly disease.” Noting that it has been almost a year since the pandemic hit the country, KAPATID questioned why there are still “no official pronouncements that consider PDLs as part of the most at-risk populations who need to get the vaccine first.” With the “subhuman” state of the country’s prisons, KAPATID called on the government “to acknowledge that prisoners are in no way safe from the threats of the COVID-19 pandemic.” “With an unenviable record of having the highest jail congestion rate in the world, Philippine prisons are a death trap. Even before COVID-19, prison agencies report that 1 PDL dies every day or 5,200 a year at the New Bilibid Prison while 300 to 800 PDLs die every year in Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facilities,” Fides said.