'On humanitarian grounds:' Vulnerable, at-risk prisoners ask SC for temporary release amid COVID-19 crisis
This March 21, 2020 photo shows detainees at the Quezon City Jail.
The STAR/Boy Santos
'On humanitarian grounds:' Vulnerable, at-risk prisoners ask SC for temporary release amid COVID-19 crisis
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 8, 2020 - 12:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Detainees deemed vulnerable and at-risk to the novel coronavirus sought an order for their temporary release from the Supreme Court, citing that the Philippines will record a staggering number of fatalities in our overcrowded prisons.

A group of 23 prisoners filed a petition by way of a special civil action for certiorari on Wednesday and asked the tribunal to direct their temporary release during “the duration of the state of public health emergency, national calamity, lockdown and community quarantine due to the threats of the COVID-19.”

The SC may also direct the release of the prisoners through bail, they said.

The group, represented by rights lawyers, also urged the SC to order the creation of a Prisoner Release Committee to study and implement the release of other prisoners who are similarly situated as them.

“Petitioners are praying for a fair chance at surviving the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in spaces that are not blighted with the overcrowding and lack of access to hygiene measures and medical care,” their plea read.

The group of petitioners are composed of political prisoners and detainees who are elderly sick or pregnant, and are committed to crowded facilities where social distancing is “practically impossible.”

Earlier this week, the Quezon City Jail placed 15 inmates under isolation after they came in contact with an inmate who died of suspected COVID-19 on March 25.

Experts suggest social distancing, which means standing at least six feet away from each other, to prevent the spread of the new pathogen that is transmitted easily through droplets.

But in the Philippines’ overcrowded prisons—the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology  previously admitted to housing detainees more than five time its capacity—social distancing is an unreachable luxury.

Noting that the state of our detention facilities is not a matter that can be resolved immediately, the petitioners said: “The fatalities among the vulnerable sectors in these prisons will be staggering once COVID-19 sets in.”

The new coronavirus has infected 3,764 in the Philippines. Death toll is at 177 while 84 have so far recovered.

Bail on humanitarian grounds

The petitioners raised that allowing the temporary release of prisoners amid the pandemic is a discussion in governments across the world, such as in India, Iran, Turkey and Australia have begun temporarily releasing prisoners amid the global outbreak.

The SC has, too, ordered the release through bail on humanitarian grounds in several cases such as when it allowed former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to walk free amid a plunder trial.

Citing Enrile vs Sandiganbayan, the petitioners said that the SC explained: “[T]he Philippine authorities are under obligation to make available to every person under detention such remedies, which safeguard their fundamental right to liberty.”

The SC in Enrile and an earlier case, Dela Rama vs. People’s Court, “deemed it proper to grant bail as the continued incarceration of the petitioners in both cases would be injurious to their health or endanger their lives,” the petitioners noted.

They also stressed that the petitioners are not flight risks—a reason cited by the SC in Enrile’s release—as they are old, frail, sickly and have mo capacity to flee.
They added: “While they are charged with common crimes, the arrest, detention and charges against petitioners are due to their political beliefs. They are not hardened criminals.”

The petitioners sought for the SC’s “compassion and protection of their right to life and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic” and asked that they may be released on humanitarian reasons.

“Needless to say, the continued incarceration of petitioners who are sick and elderly would be a virtual death sentence,” they added.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 29, 2020 - 7:51pm

Photo shows members of the Philippine National Police deployed in Manila amid COVID-19 threat. The STAR/Edd Gumban

President Rodrigo Duterte on March 16, 2020 declares an enhanced community quarantine over all of mainland Luzon, an expansion of an earlier general community quarantine over the National Capital Region.

The entire National Capital Region—16 cities and a municipality—is under community quarantine from March 15 to April 14, which means the enforcement of social distancing measures like letting fewer people on public transportation, reduced store hours, and the possibiity of curfews.

According to a memorandum issued by the Palace on Saturday, March 14, the quarantine means that "movement of people shall be limited to accessing basic necessities and work; and uniformed personnel and quarantine officers shall be present at border points."

Travel restrictions in and out of the capital will also be implemented.

April 29, 2020 - 7:51pm

Batangas, one of the provinces hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, has reported no new cases of the disease for two consecutive days.

The provincial DOH Office says the number of COVID-19 cases in the province stood at 91 with no new cases as of Wednesday afternoon.

Lipa City has the most cases with 26, followed by Batangas City (21) and Nasugbu (11).

Tanauan City has the fourth most cases with eight, followed by Bauan (5) and Alitagtag (3). Cuenca and Sto. Tomas City had two cases each, while the municipalities of Calaca, Lemery, Lian, Lobo, Mabini, Mataas na Kahoy, Padre Garcia, San Jose, San Juan, San Pascual and Taal had one case each, respectively. — The Filipino Connection

April 29, 2020 - 5:39pm

Quezon City's Task Force Disiplina has been instructed to withdraw its complaint against Michael Rubuia whom city "enforcers" were caught on video beating with sticks over alleged quarantine violations.

The QC government says in the same statement that the enforcers of Task Force Disiplina have been issued show-cause orders for their actions. They may also be put on preventive suspension.

It also says Ruguia will be released to the city's drug rehabilitation center "in view of his positive drug test."

A police report on the April 27 incident did not mention the beating by task force personnel nor that he Ruguia had tested positive for drugs.

More on that incident here: QC to investigate 'local authorities' caught on video beating man lacking face mask

April 28, 2020 - 10:26pm

A 72-year-old Person Deprived of Liberty at the Correctional Institution for Women-Mandaluyong who had tested positive for COVID-19 died on Monday, the Bureau of Corrections says Tuesday.

She was the first confirmed COVID-19 case at the correctional facility and had been hospitalized on April 13 "after experiencing pneumonia symptoms," BuCor says.

"It can be recalled that her admission to the hospital triggered the contact tracing and isolation of those PDL that had contact with her days before she was brought to the hospital," BuCor also says.

Of 130 PDLs tested, 47 have been confirmed to have COVID-19.

A CIW PDL who had been admitted to East Avenue Medical Center on April 13 and who died on April 21 has also been confirmed to have had COVID-19. The results of the test, done on April 14, were only released on Monday.

April 27, 2020 - 2:59pm

Two new confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported in Lipa City on Monday even as the total recoveries jumped to five out of the 26 confirmed cases so far, the Lipa City government said.

Mayor Eric Africa announced that two male patients, ages 78 and 27 years old, tested positive for the virus, raising the city’s total infections to 26 – the most in Batangas province. The Filipino Connection

April 26, 2020 - 3:10pm

Community farms could be a "short cut" to meeting the country's food needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, Caritas Philippines says, citing community farming projects that the Catholic Church in the Philippines is helping.

"The social amelioration program is not efficiently solving our food security problem however we see it as a necessary short-cut solution," Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines says

"Thus we at NASSA/Caritas Philippines strongly urge our government, especially the Department of Agriculture to start mobilizing farmers at the community level while we still have time."

The Department of Agriculture has said urban and community farming is among its strategies toward food security during the pandemic.

Bagaforo says "our community farms are helping deliver fresh vegetables to families severely affected by work suspension in Iligan, Bayombong and Camarines Sur, while a local farmers' cooperative supported by the diocese of Libmanan in Camarines Norte and the Gratia Plena program of the Diocese of San Jose in Nueva Ecija are supplying thousands of sacks of commercial and organic rice to Luzon provinces."

Backyard gardening programs in Iloilo, Bukidnon, Quezon, Leyte, the Samar provinces, Capiz, Oriental Mindoro and Zambales have also helped ensure food security for farming families, he says.

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