Due to congested jails, also prioritize prisoners in COVID vaccination – CHR

Published April 14, 2021, 1:29 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has urged the government to also prioritize persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the vaccinations against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

It pointed out the many vulnerabilities PDLs face inside the country’s congested jails and other detention facilities.

Through Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia, the CHR said jails are overcrowded with unsatisfactory healthcare services which make PDLs, particularly the elderly, highly vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.

Last Tuesday, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra assured that he will push for the inclusion of the PDLs in the priority list of persons for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations due to congestions in jails and other detention facilities.

“As of now, hindi pa kasama sa priority list ang PDLs (PDLs are not yet included in the priority list),” Guevarra said.

But he said the Department of Justice (DOJ) “will argue on the basis of greater COVID risks due to overcrowding.”

He assured that he will raise the issue on PDLs’ vaccinations during this week’s meeting of the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF).

For the CHR, De Guia said “while we recognize the efforts of authorities to reduce the number of prisoners and provide quarantine facilities inside jails, the situation remains critical in these institutions as they still emerge as COVID-19 hotspots.”

“We urge the government to lend clarity on the country’s vaccination plan, policies, and treatment strategies as the impact of the pandemic is graver for vulnerable populations, including those incarcerated. No one should be left behind,” she stressed.

She said the CHR has urged the government to provide up-to-date and reliable data on COVID-19 infections and related deaths in prisons. This would help concerned agencies and organizations to properly assess the situation in detention facilities, as well as help the CHR in crafting policy recommendations that would help alleviate the condition and welfare of PDLs, she added.

She pointed out that the right to health is an internationally recognized fundamental right belonging to prisoners. When it comes to national vaccination plans, there should be no discrimination against those held in detention, she also said.

“Those who are high risk inmates for Covid-19 should be prioritized for inoculation with the same treatment with comparative groups in the general population,” she stressed.

“More so in times of national health crisis, the government is obligated to account for the treatment of people deprived of their liberty, and must take appropriate steps to safeguard their lives and health,” she added.