Group calls for transparency in jail reports as coronavirus hits Philippine prisons

Group calls for transparency in jail reports as coronavirus hits Philippine prisons
In this photo taken on March 27, 2020, prison inmates lie to sleep at the crowded courtyard of the Quezon City jail in Manila
AFP / Manila Tan

MANILA, Philippines — Government agencies should provide detailed reports on jail conditions as the coronavirus disease 2019 hits the country’s overcrowded prison facilities, an organization said Monday.

KAPATID, a support group formed by relatives and friends of political prisoners, stressed real-time reports on jail condition are critical in saving the lives of thousands of prisoners.

“To stem the spread of the virus, the government should holistically embrace in its efforts the most vulnerable in society, especially those imprisoned and suffering in congested jails, by transparently reporting prison deaths and other coronavirus-related information,” Fides Lim, KAPATID spokesperson, said.

The group made an appeal after Rappler reported that dozens of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison died of unclear causes without being tested for the coronavirus. The NBP, which houses some 28,000 inmates, only reported 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases and just one virus-related death, according to the report.

“Despite the advice of prison doctors, the dead inmates are rarely tested, which is the only way to identify the sources of infection and mitigate the spread of the contagion in jails,” Fides said.

Cramped conditions and poor hygiene and sanitation make prisons and jails one of the most dangerous places for the spread of the new coronavirus. According to the World Prison Brief database, the Philippines has the highest jail occupancy in the world.

“Prison agencies need to be transparent and tell the truth because the prison system and larger community are inextricably linked. You cannot protect one but ignore the other, nor come up with effective solutions by hiding real-time data about the actual state of the imprisoned population and the personnel that service them,” Lim said.

Speed up jail decongestion

KAPATID urged the government to fasttrack jail decongestion to protect the lives of prisoners.

It also called on the Supreme Court to heed the petition filed by 22 political prisoners and detainees who are elderly sick or pregnant in who sought for compassionate intervention and “exercise of equity jurisdiction” for their release on humanitarian grounds.

Last month, the Office of the Solicitor General asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the pettition saying congestion in detention facilities does not constitute a valid ground for the petitioners' release. 

“The issue of the inadequacy of the Philippine Prison System to meet the very high standard of international rules does not warrant the release of the prisoners,” the government's top lawyer said.

Last week, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the Board of Pardons and Parole reported that 117 PDLs have been confirmed eligible for parole. There are 424 other PDLs “deemed possibly eligible for parole” but are awaiting clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation.

The Department of Health on Sunday recorded 14,035 people in the Philippines, with 868 deaths. — Gaea Katreena Cabico


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