At least 15,000 qualified Filipino prisoners freed as COVID-19 spreads in jails

Photo: Bureau of Jail Management and Penology/FB
Photo: Bureau of Jail Management and Penology/FB

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced today that it has released thousands of qualified Filipino prisoners to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 within detention facilities.

The former prisoners, numbering up to 15,322, were released in March and June. Most of them are residents of the National Capital Region, with 5,910 hailing from the metro; 1,557 are from Calabarzon; 1,487 from Central Visayas; 1,041 from Central Luzon; 897 from the Zamboanga Peninsula; 762 from Northern Mindanao; and the rest are from other locations.

The DILG’s action comes almost three months after the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch appealed to the Duterte government to release low-level offenders to prevent them from falling ill with COVID-19. Philippine detention facilities are notorious for being overcrowded, making it impossible for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) to practice social distancing and observe good hygiene.

Read: No Social Distancing: 23 prisoners seek temporary liberty to avoid COVID-19 in crowded cells

At least 783 prisoners and 135 personnel have tested positive of the coronavirus in jails all over the Philippines. As of this week, 549 prisoners and 90 employees have recovered from the potentially deadly respiratory disease.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said, “The release of thousands of PDLs is proof that they were not forgotten or ignored. This is proof that the justice system in the country continues to function despite the pandemic.”

“All of these PDLs were released by authority of the courts with some released in accordance with new guidelines issued by the Supreme Court because of the pandemic,” Secretary Año added.

Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said 1,312 of those PDLs were freed because of new Supreme Court guidelines that sought to decongest detention facilities.

The authorities added that they have provided more focused medical care to the prisoners, disinfected the jails every day, expanded coronavirus testings, and conducted health education campaigns. In addition, prisoners and staff were required to wear face masks, use footbaths, wash hands, and maintain proper hygiene.

It was in April when about 23 prisoners, some of whom were elderly and sick, asked the Supreme Court to grant them their temporary liberty. They said that staying inside the country’s jails was tantamount to receiving a death sentence, given that the coronavirus could easily spread among PDLs.

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