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Philippines urged to relieve pressure on packed prisons to prevent 'catastrophic' health crisis

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Philippines urged to relieve pressure on packed prisons to prevent 'catastrophic' health crisis
This file photo taken on September 29, 2018 shows inmates sitting on the floor of Saint Dimas chapel during an anti-drug and contraband inspection at the Manila City Jail.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will face a disastrous health crisis in its packed prisons and jails in the coming weeks if it does not reduce overcrowding in detention facilities across the country, a human rights watchdog warned Tuesday.

Cramped conditions and poor hygiene and sanitation make prisons and jails the most dangerous places for the spread of the new coronavirus. This grim situation makes it often impossible for persons deprived of liberty to comply with preventive measures such as physical distancing and frequent handwashing.

The Philippines has the highest jail occupancy in the world, according to the World Prison Brief database. The arrests of curfew and quarantine violations have further crowded these facilities.

“The Philippines faces catastrophic public health problems in its horribly overcrowded prisons and jails in the coming weeks,” Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director, said.

“For humanitarian reasons and to stop COVID-19 from spreading, authorities need to get ahead of this situation by undertaking early releases and making sure the country’s detention facilities are equipped to take on the coronavirus,” he added.

Rights groups have been appealing to the government to release older prisoners, pregnant women, those with underlying health conditions and minor offenders to relieve the pressure on overcrowded detention facilities. But despite the calls, the government has not declared it will make early releases.

“Failure to act now could result in a serious outbreak in the country’s jails and prisons, threatening the lives of prisoners whose health the authorities have a duty to protect,” Robertson said.

Last month, the Bureau of Corrections suspended visitation privileges in all its prison facilities across the country. As of January 2020, there were 49,114 inmates in BuCor-manned prisons.

BJMP also suspended jail visits a day later. Around 134,549 persons deprived of liberty are detained in 476 jails nationwide as of September 2019. 

The new coronavirus has so far infected 3,660 people in the Philippines—163 of whom have died.

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