Open letter to Department of Justice: Decongest jails in the Philippines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic
To: THE HONORABLE MENARDO GUEVARRA, Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila
1000 The Philippines
6 May 2020
Re: Decongest jails in the Philippines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic
Dear Hon. Secretary Guevarra
We, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), an Asia-based human rights network, and its member organizations in the Philippines including KARAPATAN, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) are writing to express our concern on the deteriorating state of persons deprived of liberty in jails. We reiterate the call of human rights organizations to decongest the country’s jails, as the country struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Philippines has one of the highest rates of jail congestion in the world, at almost 400 percent overcapacity. We urge your office to heed the call of UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to release every person ‘detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.’ We also ask that your office prioritize the immediate release of persons deprived of their liberty who are vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, including pregnant women, the elderly, and those with medical conditions including mental health issues.
Detention centers pose a significantly heightened risk for the spread of COVID-19 for persons deprived of their liberty and personnel working in detention facilities, including healthcare staff. Over the past weeks, persons deprived of liberty and prison guards have tested positive for COVID-19. We appreciate the recent release of 10,000 persons deprived of liberty, but would also like to draw your attention to how such actions must be sustained if they are to have a lasting impact. With the impossibility of physical distancing within these detention centers and significant gaps in health resources within prisons, more are expected to test positive within the coming weeks. The current health infrastructure would be unable to cope with such a crisis. Clearly, prison health implicates public health.
We are also concerned that the continuing arrests and detention of lockdown violators are further compromising the safety and welfare of these individuals – persons deprived of their liberty and custodial staff. With an already overstretched prison system, these individuals are often deprived of access to basic needs, as well as legal and medical services. These arrests, often without warrants, also undermine the people’s trust in the country’s institutions.
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