[Press Release] Political prisoners, assisted by Philippine human rights advocates, seek their release due to COVID-19 pandemic -NUPL

Twenty-two political prisoners, who are 60 years old and above, sickly and among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19, filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking their temporary release.

The petition was filed on April 8, 2020, with the assistance of human rights groups KAPATID and KARAPATAN, together with lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL). Petitioners also prayed that the court immediately set up a mechanism in prisons throughout the country for the release of thousands of similarly situated prisoners.

“Our prisons have more than 500% congestion rate and lack water and other hygienic facilities, making them a hotbed for the life-threatening COVID-19. Prisoners cannot follow simple DOH guidelines like washing of hands with soap and social distancing under the dismal state of our jails. Worse, if ever they get infected, they do not have immediate access to hospital treatment because of their status as persons deprived of liberty, not to mention the inadequate, or even lack of, medical facilities within our prison system. Once transmission occurs in prisons, the infection and casualty rates could be more than double the rate outside. It will be like a death sentence on these prisoners.” said Atty. Ephraim Cortez, Secretary-General of the NUPL.

“This is the reason why we are asking for the release of petitioners on humanitarian grounds. Petitioners are political prisoners who continue to be deprived of their liberty even as they have not been convicted, simply because they were not allowed to avail of their right to bail. Petitioners assert that they are not flight risks, especially during the lockdown because they are already old, infirm or sickly prisoners. We cited the case of Senator Enrile who was released on humanitarian considerations by the Supreme Court in 2017,” Cortez further said.

“There are calls all over the world for the release of thousands of prisoners because of the threat of the coronavirus. Even repressive governments like Iran has released more than 10,000 prisoners to ease the threat of massive deaths in prisons. The measures instituted by Philippine prison authorities such as prison lockdown cannot ensure that the virus will not be able to infect prisoners. Even rich countries like the United States admit their incapability to secure prisoners from COVID and are already studying ways for the release of these prisoners” said Atty. Rachel Pastores, managing counsel of the PILC.

“All that the prisoners are asking is that they be temporarily released on recognizance or bail until the termination of the state of national emergency. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has made the call for the release of prisoners throughout the world. Many countries have responded positively to the UN call, the latest of which was India, whose Supreme Court ordered the creation of judicial committees to effect the immediate release of qualified prisoners. We urge the Court to urgently hear the petition and grant the prayer for the release of these old and sick prisoners on humanitarian ground. We also ask the Court to immediately set up a procedure for the release of other old and sickly prisoners all over the country,” concluded Pastores. #

Reference:

Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez
NUPL Secretary-General
+639172092943

Atty. Rachel F. Pastores
PILC Managing Counsel
+639279219539

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