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Release of more prisoners urged amid COVID-19

It’s been a month since PILC assisted the relatives of political prisoners in filing a petition to release on humanitarian grounds at least 22 political prisoners and other PDLs vulnerable to COVID-19. The Supreme Court deliberated on the petition on May 5, but has not decided yet.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – A human rights lawyer said the number of released prisoners so far is not significant especially in the context of 534 percent congestion rate of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

Kristina Conti of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said that while there are almost 10,000 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) released from March 17 to April 29 according to Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 38-2020, the number is only 7.3 percent of the total population of the BJMP as of January 2020, which is at 133,081.

Speaking in an online discussion of Second Opinion, May 5, Conti said the jails should remain at their 100 percent capacity, and therefore, the excess number should be released to attain the physical distancing recommended by the health experts.

Conti said would only take a week to release prisoners from jails. She said it is even possible to release many prisoners as possible in a day if the courts and the prosecutors would cooperate.

It’s been a month since PILC assisted the relatives of political prisoners in filing a petition to release on humanitarian grounds at least 22 political prisoners and other PDLs vulnerable to COVID-19. The Supreme Court deliberated on the petition on May 5, but has not decided yet.

The SC has issued guidelines on how to proceed with the decongestion of prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on these guidelines, the following can now be released:

– Low-level offenders who can afford bail

– Detainees and prisoners who have stayed in jail for a long time

– Datainees in cases where the state has failed to prosecute

– Prisoners granted executive clemency by the President

Conti reiterated that those who are vulnerable to contracting the disease such as the elderly, sickly and pregnant women should be the priority for release.

“These are people who should be protected from the disease. By protection, this means that they be released and give the custody to their families or organizations,” Conti said.

She lamented that political prisoners cannot be released if the only basis would be the order released by the SC.

Why prisons are congested

Conti said that even in the past administrations, many who are jailed are in fact wrongfully accused of crime, such as activists who are slapped with common crimes or bystanders who were accused of being drug dealers.

Conti criticized the Office of Solicitor General’s for blocking their petition.

“This government tries to imply that they (political prisoners) are bad people, but it is part of the government’s systematic attack against critics,” Conti said.

Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, an organization of families and friends of political prisoners also pointed out that the congestion of prison is worsened further by the arrests made under the government’s anti-drug war campaign plus the thousands more who were arrested during the ECQ.

She said that even the SC has admitted in the case of People of the Philippines vs. Mateo (2004) that there is at least 72 percent judicial error rate on death penalty cases. This is why, she said, that this is not only a campaign of releasing prisoners to decongest detention facilities due to COVID-19 pandemic but also giving justice to those who are wrongfully accused.

“The 72 percent judicial error rate points to a broken judicial system,” Lim said.

She said this is why they are asking the SC to release the 22 political prisoners as well as ordinary prisoners who are vulnerable to the disease based on humanitarian grounds.

Lim said Solicitor General Jose Calida may have been hindering their petition, but “it will take a hundred Calidas to defeat us.”

“We know that our campaign seems to impossible in the midst of the suppression of democratic rights and the right to life. But it is just, humane and fair to demand the release of vulnerable prisoners and save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lim said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

The post Release of more prisoners urged amid COVID-19 appeared first on Bulatlat.

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