Tag Archives: Persons Deprived of Liberty

[Right-Up] Hidden Victims of the Pandemic: The Old Man, the Jail Aide, and the Convict -By Aie Balagtas See (Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism)

PCIJ

Hidden Victims of the Pandemic: The Old Man, the Jail Aide, and the Convict

Three persons deprived of liberty describe how inhuman conditions in the country’s jails and prisons are placing them at greater risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are their accounts as told to Aie Balagtas See. The images, drawn by Alexandra Paredes, are artistic renderings inspired by PCIJ file photos of prisoners from various jails.

By Aie Balagtas See
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

“All prison detention cells are COVID-free. That is the safest place right now,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in late March, projecting an air of certainty even as the coronavirus pandemic raged. More than a month later, Año’s statement has become demonstrably false.

As of this writing, 716 inmates in city jails throughout the country have tested positive for the virus. In New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa, 140 inmates have been infected with the disease, and 12 deaths have so far been attributed to Covid-19. The Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong has recorded 82 positive cases, with three deaths.

The lack of mass tests, the highly infectious nature of the virus, the lack of protective equipment and proper healthcare, and the inhuman overcrowding at Philippine jails and prisons are a potentially deadly combination.

On condition of anonymity, three “persons deprived of liberty” talked to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in May, speaking out against the impossibility of physical distancing and the shortage of resources in prison and jail cells. The “minimum health standards” imposed outside are nonexistent. Worse, there seems to be a lack of empathy from the people who are supposed to take care of them.

Because they are locked away from the rest of society, inmates and detainees in prison and jail cells are the hidden victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are their stories.

“We’re dead,” the old man thought when he first learned of Covid-19 infections. Illustration by Alexandra Paredes

A. The Old Man (Quezon City Jail)

The inmates were getting ready for jailbreaks. Our situation in Quezon City Jail has been tense since the coronavirus breached our walls in the last week of March.

We held a noise barrage that month. It used to be calmer here. No one complained even though it was unusual that many of us suffered from high fever in February and early March. One day, we found out that an empleyada tested positive for coronavirus.

That’s when paranoia kicked in.

Empleyada or empleyado, that’s how we call the jail guards. We only learned about her case through media reports. We were kept in the dark about our real situation here.

No one bothered to explain her condition to us. The jail guards left us guessing about our safety. We were left guessing about our lives. Days after the news broke, a fellow inmate died.

Nine more inmates who came in close contact with him later tested positive for the virus.

We were angry. We eventually found out that the empleyada works in the paralegal office where e-Dalaw or the inmates’ Skype sessions with their families were held.

That tells you that she came in close contact with a lot of inmates. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of us got infected. The only way to find out is through massive testing.

‘We’re dead’

An inmate who came in close contact with the empleyada was isolated as jail administrators waited for her results to come out. On the eighth day of his quarantine period, the inmate was sent back to our dorm. We don’t know why he didn’t complete 14 days in isolation. He ate with us, slept beside us. He did practically everything with us. Then the empleyada’s results came. Positive, it said. The jail guards went to our dorm and picked him up for another round of quarantine.

Most of us were in disbelief. As the inmate walked out of our dorm, it got us thinking: Are they really killing us here? Or are they just incompetent?

When I first learned of the Covid-19 infections, one thing crossed my mind: We’re dead.

We’re dead because social distancing is a UFO (unidentified flying object) here. Experts say maintaining physical distance is the best weapon against this virus. For a jail facility that’s nearly 500 percent congested, no matter how you look at it, social distancing is alien.

Let me tell you why I don’t trust their system here.

One of the quarantine facilities was on the floor reserved for tuberculosis (TB) patients. Can you imagine that? You’re breathing TB from that entire floor. If you have ordinary colds and cough, you might get tuberculosis instead of getting cured.

Now, no one wants to admit they are sick over fears that jail guards will send them to the TB floor.

How do they check us for symptoms? They ask: “Do you have a cough, cold, fever, or flu?” They want to know if we have diarrhea. If we answer “no” to all their questions, that’s it.

Every move, a peso sign

Usually, a plastic screen separates the jail nurse from us.

The empleyados have personal protective equipment. Not an inch of their skin is exposed while the detainees assisting them, called the orderlies, wear only face masks. The orderlies are the real first line of defense. They attend to inmates before jail nurses do.

Earlier this year, my daughter bought me two blister packs of flu medicines. They ran out before I could even take one. I had to give them to my sick dormmates because they couldn’t ask from the clinic.

Most of my dormmates had flu symptoms at that time, but I heard the clinic ran out of supplies. Sometimes, it’s hard to ask medicines from the empleyado. If you know someone from the clinic, your connection might save your life.

Otherwise, you have to buy. Every move you make requires a peso sign. You’re dead if you don’t have money, especially if you’re facing grave charges.

Receiving government provisions is like an awarding ceremony. They need photographs for the tiniest thing they give you. They give you a blister pack of vitamins, they take pictures. They give you a bar of soap, they take pictures.

They always need to take pictures as if these were trophies they would mount on walls.

But everything is a lie. They don’t take good care of us. They don’t even come near those in quarantine areas. They stay outside the bars that separate them from the inmates.

In response to that, I would reach out to grab them whenever they asked me how I felt. It always made them flinch and step backwards. It’s so funny! I do that just to see how they’d react.

I don’t feel we are being treated as humans here.

Hopeless, helpless

Inside jails, you are tormented by the thought that you can’t do anything. People want to complain but can’t. They don’t know how, and they are afraid.

Inside jails, you feel hopeless and helpless.

Hopeless because you are under their rule. It’s like a military camp. What the empleyado wants, the empleyado gets.

Helpless because there are no real safety measures. There are no standard procedures for quarantine.

This is why I decided to speak up. I want things to change – from quarantine and precautionary measures to the attitude of the empleyado nurse.

Once, a medical aide said a sick detainee needed attention. The empleyado answered back: “Bahala silang mamatay pabayaan mo lang sila (let them die).”

With that attitude from a government nurse, how will you feel?

Why are we put in such conditions?

We’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. We should not be placed in these life-threatening conditions. We still have the right to life.

Tormented

The tension between jail guards and inmates subsided when the government started releasing detainees in April. Some days they released 20 inmates, some days they released five, 10, or 38.

It’s a slow process but at least they’re doing something to address the problem.

On April 19, the jail started segregating the elderly from the general population.

Old men, like me, were taken to administrative offices previously occupied by jail personnel. One of the offices was the paralegal office! It was the office where the empleyada who tested positive for Covid-19 was assigned.

In one of the facilities, 11 people shared two gurneys and a stretcher. Sick inmates who recently died used to occupy those makeshift hospital beds. I don’t know if they have been disinfected.

After all the deaths and infections here, information remains scarce. They’re not telling us anything. Don’t we deserve to know the truth so we can also protect ourselves?

Like me, I’m already 60 years old. My immune system is weak.

For now, I take things one step at a time. I have this mindset that I will never wait for my release anymore. It will torment you if you wait for it. But at night, I sleep wishing that I can get out.

I wish I could benefit from the Supreme Court petition that was filed on behalf of detainees. When the courts sent me here earlier this year, I didn’t have colds and cough. Now I have it. I’m afraid that if they don’t do anything, I will die here in a few days.

“I think I’m Covid-19 positive as I have all the symptoms, but until now, I have never been swabbed for a test,” the jail aide said. Illustration by Alexandra Paredes

B. The Jail Aide (Quezon City Jail)

We badly need mass testing. I am one of the orderlies in Quezon City Jail. The old man and I are concerned that many of us are infected with Covid-19 already.

We don’t have sufficient information about what’s happening. They’re not telling us anything. I don’t know why. Maybe, they don’t want us to panic?

In March or February, we ran out of paracetamol after detainees with fever inundated the clinic.

Our Covid-19 prevention measures are also terrible! I’m one of those who assist jail doctors and nurses in the clinic. Those I work with are protected with proper medical equipment. Me? I attend to patients wearing only a glove and a face mask to protect myself.

In April, they relieved me of my duties when I went down with high fever. I really thought I would die. I had convulsions. I’ve been in quarantine ever since.

I think I’m Covid-19 positive as I have all the symptoms, but until now, I have never been swabbed for a test.

No physical distance

They placed me in isolation together with other sick inmates, which meant that if I had the virus, other inmates would catch it too.

Because it’s impossible to maintain physical distance, our line of defense against coronavirus is our immune system.

Even that is far-fetched.

Why? Because our food is terrible. Sometimes, we have longganisa (native sausage) for lunch for five straight days. For dinner, they always serve soup with vegetable. Sometimes our rice supply is half-cooked. Sometimes it’s burnt.

With a lack of proper food and exercise, boosting our immune system is next to impossible.

“The truth is, many of us are sick,” the convict said. Illustration by Alexandra Paredes

C. The Convict (New Bilibid Prison)

More people are dying in New Bilibid Prison every day. It is as if there’s a typhoon of dead bodies raining all over us.

This May, more than 100 inmates died. That number is unprecedented. It’s the first time I have seen something like that since I arrived here 20 years ago.

Many of them died of pneumonia and other respiratory problems. However, there were no tests that would confirm them as Covid-19 patients.

We are scared of many things. We are scared of contracting the virus, but we are also scared of getting thrown inside isolation wards.

Prison doctors will isolate you if they think you have symptoms. We don’t want to be in further isolation. This fear prompts inmates to lie about their real health condition. The truth is, many of us are sick.

The NBP has three camps: the maximum, medium, and minimum security compounds. The isolation areas are located inside these facilities. They are different from the newly built “Site Harry” where COVID-19-positive patients from the Bureau of Corrections were put in quarantine or treated. Site Harry is located beside the medium security camp.

We are scared but we can’t do anything. Gang bosses might wring our necks if we complain. Speak up and face the risk of being locked up in a bartolina (isolation cell).

We have to wear masks wherever we go. Prison guards and gang leaders are strictly implementing this policy outside our dorms.

Ironically, we can remove our masks inside our dorms during bedtime. Covid-19 must be having a grand time inside our walls!

‘Their lives matter’

There’s no way to gauge what’s plaguing us, for sure. There’s no massive testing among inmates for the virus that has already killed one of us.

I can only assume.

Uncertainty is our enemy. Only one thing is clear to me: NBP is not COVID-19-free and we may contract the virus anytime. Dying of Covid-19 seems only a matter of time.

We are scared for the prison guards, too. They also need attention. They need to be tested and tested rigorously.

Should guards die, they would be called heroes. The government would hail them as frontliners who risked their lives for public safety. Their lives matter.

But when we, the inmates, die, we will be reduced to nothing but ashes that our families can retrieve from crematoriums for a hefty price of P30,000.

We know that the virus is a problem everywhere. All we’re asking for is a health care system that caters to everyone, including us.

We’re humans too.

***

Postscript:

A spokesman for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) confirmed to the PCIJ that the female staff of Quezon City Jail who tested positive for Covid-19 was part of the “e-Dalaw operation,” but said her participation was limited to planning the inmates’ schedules. Detainees held a noise barrage after finding out that the empleyada had caught the disease, but the “commotion” was pacified and jail staff and inmates have since maintained open communication with each other, the spokesman claimed.

The BJMP did not respond to queries on whether suspected Covid-19 cases were isolated on the same floor as tuberculosis patients. –PCIJ, June 2020

Aie Balagtas See is a freelance journalist working on human rights issues. Follow her on Twitter (@AieBalagtasSee) or email her at aie.bsee@gmail.com for comments.
Alexandra Paredes is a graphic designer and artist. Her design practice spans social impact, corporate collaterals, teaching, writing, and commissioned art. Find her online at alexandraparedes.com.

Paredes’s illustrations are fictional representations of the old man, the jail aide, and the convict. These are artistic renderings inspired by PCIJ file photos of prisoners.

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[Off-the-shelf] Prisons and COVID-19: the real lockdown -APT

Prisons and COVID-19: the real lockdown

A third of the world’s population are facing some level of restriction on their movement as governments attempt to contain the novel coronavirus. Limits on ‘normal’ life range from mass gatherings to complete ‘lockdowns’ with penalties for leaving home without the required paperwork.

Lockdowns have also been seen in national prison systems the world over with fears of the disease ‘rampaging through places of detention’. There is a reason to be fearful. Prisons are notoriously hotbeds for infectious diseases. People live and sleep on top of each other – in the literal sense in some countries – and there is little fresh air, lack of nutritious food, and shortages in healthcare provision as documented in our recent report, Global Prison Trends 2020. To date there have been almost 40,000 cases of infection among people in prison reported and tracked across 60 countries and around 750 deaths in 28 countries – although the numbers will in fact be much higher.

When we look at the lockdowns people in prison are facing, we can see that like with many things, what is happening in the community is not only mirrored in prisons but magnified.

Read full story @www.apt.ch

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[From the web] Open letter to Department of Justice: Decongest jails in the Philippines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic -Forum-Asia

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.

Please click the link to read the complete letter:

Open letter to Department of Justice: Decongest jails in the Philippines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic

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[Off-the-shelf] COVID-19 in detention: prevention, protection and information for visitors -ICRC

COVID-19 in detention: prevention, protection and information for visitors
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

During such a public health crisis, it is crucial to have good communication with detainees, staff and visitors and ensure measures are taken to prevent the virus’ spread in places of detention.

This is one of three training and awareness videos produced for detaining authorities and the wider public who may be affected by detention.

Further COVID-19 and Detention resources can be found here: https://bit.ly/2xoATBI

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Human Rights Online Philippines does not hold copyright over these materials. Author/s and original source/s of information are retained including the URL contained within the tagline and byline of the articles, news information, photos, etc.

[Off-the-shelf] COVID-19 in detention: prevention, protection and information for detainees -ICRC

COVID-19 in detention: prevention, protection and information for detainees
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

During such a public health crisis, it is crucial to have good communication with detainees, staff and visitors and ensure measures are taken to prevent the virus’ spread in places of detention.

This is one of three training and awareness videos produced for detaining authorities and the wider public who may be affected by detention.

Further COVID-19 and Detention resources can be found here: https://bit.ly/2xoATBI

Submit your contribution online through HRonlinePH@gmail.com
Include your full name, e-mail address, and contact number.

All submissions are republished and redistributed in the same way that it was originally published online and sent to us. We may edit submission in a way that does not alter or change the original material.

Human Rights Online Philippines does not hold copyright over these materials. Author/s and original source/s of information are retained including the URL contained within the tagline and byline of the articles, news information, photos, etc.

 

[Off-the-shelf] COVID-19 in detention: prevention, protection and information for staff -ICRC

COVID-19 in detention: prevention, protection and information for staff -ICRC

During such a public health crisis, it is crucial to have good communication with detainees, staff, and visitors and ensure measures are taken to prevent the virus’ spread in places of detention.

This is one of three training and awareness videos produced for detaining authorities and the wider public who may be affected by detention.

Further COVID-19 and Detention resources can be found here: https://bit.ly/2xoATBI

Submit your contribution online through HRonlinePH@gmail.com
Include your full name, e-mail address, and contact number.

All submissions are republished and redistributed in the same way that it was originally published online and sent to us. We may edit submission in a way that does not alter or change the original material.

Human Rights Online Philippines does not hold copyright over these materials. Author/s and original source/s of information are retained including the URL contained within the tagline and byline of the articles, news information, photos, etc.

[From the web] Philippines: Prison Deaths Unreported Amid Pandemic Reduce Prisoner Populations to Address Severe Health Concerns -HRW

Philippines: Prison Deaths Unreported Amid Pandemic
Reduce Prisoner Populations to Address Severe Health Concerns

(Manila, April 29, 2020) – The Philippine government has not fully reported prison deaths, raising concerns that Covid-19 is spreading more quickly and widely in the country’s detention facilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should investigate prison deaths and take urgent measures to better protect prisoners, including by reducing prison populations to allow for social distancing and other prevention measures.

Five inmates interviewed separately told Human Rights Watch recently that since March 25, 2020, at least seven inmates have died in the Quezon City Jail and one in the Cavite Provincial Jail. Human Rights Watch could not determine whether the deaths were Covid-19 related because of the absence of testing in the facilities and the government’s failure to report them. A criminal justice expert and a nongovernmental monitoring group believe more deaths have occurred in the country’s prisons and jails than the government has disclosed publicly.

“Unreported deaths of inmates show the urgent need for the Duterte government to be transparent about the spread of Covid-19 inside the country’s overcrowded prisons,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should get serious about the terrible situation in its prisons and jails and accurately report on prison deaths and illness.”

The Philippine government has reported that only two inmates have died from Covid-19 – one at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City and the other at the Quezon City Jail, both in Metro Manila. The Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology publicly stated that nearly 250 inmates in various prisons and jails have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Several inmates at the Quezon City Jail told Human Rights Watch by telephone that possible Covid-19 cases at the facility appear to be increasing. “We have at least one death a week since the outbreak, which is higher than usual,” said an inmate with duties as a “medical aide” inside the overcrowded jail. Another medical aide and other inmates corroborated this account.

An inmate in the Cavite Provincial Jail told Human Rights Watch that a Nigerian man in his 40s died during the first week of April. He said the man later was found to have had Covid-19. A medical staff member in the warden’s office confirmed the death but provided no other details except that the warden “has already reported it to the governor and the DILG,” the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

The inmate said four prisoners carried the body out of the jail with little protective medical equipment, a common practice for medical aides. Medical aides fill in for some roles of nurses and doctors inside the jail, such as taking temperatures. These duties have increased as the virus outbreak has stretched the already inadequate number of medical personnel, and because staff considers them safe to mingle with the general prison population.

“We had a mask on and a pair of gloves but that’s it,” a medical aide at the Quezon City Jail said about taking the body to a waiting ambulance for transfer to a morgue. Another detainee said that while the nurses at the Quezon City Jail wore proper protective gear, medical aides only received a face mask and gloves.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people transferring bodies of those who have died from suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should use protective equipment, including a gown, gloves, face shield, and goggles, or other facial protection.

The inmate said social distancing was impossible inside the jail, prisoners lacked nutritious food, and that only about a quarter of the prisoners were wearing face masks.

“Inmates painted a harrowing picture of health conditions inside the overcrowded jails,” Robertson said. “Failing to give adequate protection to the inmates ordered to help prison medical staff is cruel beyond belief.”

The inmate said that, based on the number of detainees at the Quezon City Jail who have been moved to an isolation ward outside the facility and changes in jail personnel, as many as 20 detainees and 19 jail staff are believed to have been infected as of April 23.

“We pity the old detainees especially because we don’t know where to isolate them,” the inmate said. “Many of them have a hard time breathing, some have a fever.” A detainee over 60 years old said, “The prisoners here are pitiful. There’s practically no space for us to sleep properly. Even the plaza outside our cells is occupied. They don’t care about us.”

All the detainees interviewed said their cell leaders handed down explicit instructions not to disclose detainee deaths to relatives, the public, or the media.

The Philippines has the most congested penal system in the world, with a total jail population of more than 215,000 as of November 2019 occupying space intended for a maximum capacity of 40,000. The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported that the 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent of capacity in March 2020. Bureau of Corrections records indicates that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was 310 percent in January.

Human Rights Watch and Philippine human rights groups concerned about outbreaks of Covid-19 in the country’s prisons and jails have urged the government to release prisoners who face charges for low-level, non-violent crimes, including older people and those with underlying medical conditions. The Supreme Court, in response to a petition filed by sick and older prisoners, directed lower courts to expedite such releases. However, the solicitor general, Jose Calida, blocked the petition stating, “While it is true that some of the detention and reformatory facilities in the country are highly congested, unfortunately, congestion in prison facilities is not among the grounds to release inmates.”

“The Philippines is facing a real catastrophe if nothing is done to improve the dire health and overcrowding situation in its jails,” Robertson said. “The government needs to release vulnerable prisoners immediately and ensure that the medical needs of the remaining detainees are met.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/29/philippines-prison-deaths-unreported-amid-pandemic

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Philippines, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/philippines

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Coronavirus, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/tag/coronavirus

For a Q&A on the Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/human-rights-dimensions-covid-19-response

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[Action Alert] Release of low-risk offenders and those most vulnerable persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), including the sick and the elderly, and victims of political incarcerations, to help decongest jails and protect all PDLs from the COVID-19 pandemic -TFDP

ACTION ALERT: Release of low-risk offenders and those most vulnerable persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), including the sick and the elderly, and victims of political incarcerations, to help decongest jails and protect all PDLs from the COVID-19 pandemic

27 April 2020

Dear Friends,

The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) is forwarding to you an appeal regarding the immediate release of low-risk offenders and those most vulnerable to contracting the virus, including the sick and the elderly, to ensure that the human rights of PDLs are protected, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The release of all political prisoners and detainees would not only help decongest jails, but also prevent worsening injustice and suffering brought upon them by political incarceration and combat the risk of COVID-19 infection because of jail condition.

——————————-
In a news article posted on April 24, 2020, at ABS-CBN.com (https://bit.ly/2y24KA9), the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) confirmed that an inmate at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) who contracted the Coronavirus died in the evening of April 23, 2020.

Based on the BuCor data posted in its official website, the total prison population at the NBP stands at 29,173, making it the most densely populated penal facility in the country. Concerned groups fear that this would lead to the catastrophic spread of the virus among PDLs.

It was also reported earlier that 18 female PDLs from the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong who were also diagnosed Corona virus-positive were transferred to NBP.

Meanwhile, in another news article in SunStar.com.ph (https://bit.ly/3cNvsLB), it was reported that as of April 23, the total number of persons infected with the Coronavirus at the Cebu City Jail (CCJ) was 129, 116 of whom are PDLs, while 13 are jail personnel.

TFDP and other human rights organizations are in solidarity with the call to release all victims of political incarceration, torture, and victims of red-tagging and trumped-up charges, because of their political beliefs and association, amid this health crisis.

According to TFDP, as of January 2020, there are 409 political prisoners and detainees languishing in jails nationwide – 232 in Luzon, 43 in the Visayas, and 134 in Mindanao. They have been suffering political incarceration for years and are now at risk of contracting the Coronavirus.

Raymund Narag, a prison reform advocate, in his article posted and shared online as early as March, already warned that jails and prisons are among the most susceptible areas to the spread of the virus. According to him, “With an overcrowding rate of 350%, the Philippines has the most congested correctional system in the world. If one of the PDLs gets infected in the congested jails, it could be a catastrophe.”

“Our jail staff would be tremendously strained to handle the infection once it starts. Despite their best efforts and even in normal circumstances, they lack medical facilities and doctors to handle routine health problems. We have recently witnessed jail unrest in more resource-endowed jail and prison facilities in Italy and the USA. We are not sure what the outcome would be if similar unrest began in the Philippines correctional system,” he added.

Human rights groups have been urging the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice to release low-risk offenders and those most vulnerable to contracting the virus, including the sick and the elderly, for humanitarian reasons, and also to be able to decongest the facilities and prevent the impending catastrophe.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write a letter to the following authorities urging them to:

• fulfill their obligation to treat all prisoners with respect for their inherent dignity and value as human beings and ensure that their human rights are protected, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic;
• conduct mass testing for COVID-19 for PDLs and jail personnel in all prison facilities;
• immediately release PDLs with low risk profiles or have committed minor and petty offenses; with imminent release dates; the elderly and the sickly; and those who are arbitrarily detained subject to court review;
• immediately release children in detentions with adequate care arrangements from relevant government agencies mandated to provide child protection;
• provide adequate housing and reasonable accommodation to PDLs who are qualified for immediate release but may not have a residence upon release while they are undergoing re-integration program;
• release all political prisoners and detainees;
• consider that any measure to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in places of detention must be necessary, proportionate and must be based on public health emergency guidelines on social distancing and other health measures;
• bear in mind that under no circumstance shall the isolation or quarantine be used to justify derogation of rights or the imposition of harsher penalties or less adequate conditions; and
• guarantee the protection and well-being of prison staff. The prison authorities should device appropriate work arrangement as an emergency plan, which include regular health monitoring, and provision of personnel protective equipment.

Please send your letters:

1. HIS EXCELLENCY RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE
President, Republic of the Philippines
New Executive Building, Malacanang Palace Compound
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila
1005 Philippines
Tel: +632 87368645; +632 87368603; +632-87368606; +632-87368629; +632-87368621
Telefax: +632 87368621
E-mail: pcc@malacanang.gov.ph

2. HER EXCELLENCY MARIA LEONOR G. ROBREDO
Vice President, Republic of the Philippines
Reception House 110 11th Street
Brgy. Mariana, New Manila, Quezon City
TL: +632 5346451
E-mail: vp@ovp.gov.ph; lenirobredo.ovp@gmail.com

3. HON. MENARDO GUEVARRA
Secretary, Department of Justice (DOJ)
Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila
1000 Philippines
Tel: +632 85218348
Telefax: +632 85262618
Trunkline: +632 85238481 loc 217
Email: osecmig@gmail.com, communications@doj.gov.ph

4. HON. EDUARDO AŇO
Secretary, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)
DILG-NAPOLCOM Center
EDSA corner Quezon Avenue, Quezon City
Tel: +632 89250330; +632 89250331
Fax: +632 89250332
Trunkline: +632 88763454 loc 1001
Email: emano@dilg.gov.ph

5. HON. JOSE LUIS MARTIN GASCON
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
Philippines
Tel: +632 89285655; +632 89266188
Telefax: +632 89290102
Email: chairgascon.chr@gmail.com

6. PNP CHIEF LT. GEN. ARCHIE GAMBOA
Philippine National Police
PNP National Headquarters
Camp General Crame, EDSA
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines 1100
Tel: +632 87230401; +632 87220650 local 3453/3473

7. USEC GERALD Q. BANTAG
Director General, Bureau of Corrections
NBP Reservation, Muntinlupa City, Philippines, 1776
8809-80-73, 8850-32-82, 8809-97-75
Telephone: +632 850-50-02, +632 807-23-68

8. SEC. CARLITO G. GALVEZ, JR.
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
5/F Agustin I Building, F. Ortigas Jr. Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig, Philippines
Office of the Secretary: +632 637-6083
Trunk line: +632 636-0701 to 07
Fax: +632 638-2216
Email: peace.opapp@gmail.com

9. J/DIR ALLAN SULLANO IRAL, CESE
Chief, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP)
Address: 144 Mindanao Avenue, Project 8, Quezon City, Philippines 1106
Email: itu@bjmp.gov.ph
Trunkline: 89276383, 89275505, 89275807
Tel: 9276383 loc. 402

https://www.facebook.com/notes/task-force-detainees-of-the-philippines/action-alert-release-of-low-risk-offenders-and-those-most-vulnerable-pdls-includ/3804311962944761/

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