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Baka magkasakit sa loob! SC asked: Release ‘vulnerable’ inmates amid COVID-19 threat

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The Supreme Court (SC) has been asked on Wednesday (April 8) to temporarily release vulnerable prisoners and detainees on “humanitarian grounds” due to threat of the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) made the appeal in a petition they filed on behalf of 23 prisoners and detainees.

“Petitioners respectfully pray that preemptive intervention and non-custodial measures be urgently made. The release of elderly, sickly and pregnant among the prisoners should be given primary attention,” read their petition.

“The continued incarceration and detention of highly vulnerable inmates such as the elderly, pregnant women, and those who have pre-existing medical conditions that pose a high risk of contracting the coronavirus is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, which the 1987 Constitution explicitly prohibits,” they pointed out.

Citnig the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH), the petitioners said that “the most vulnerable are those who are 60 years of age and above, those who are sick and with co-morbidities such as hypertension, asthma and other respiratory illness, and cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and those who are pregnant.”

“Detention facilities in the country lack the necessary equipment capable of treating and handling cases of COVID-19. It is almost impossible for prisoners to immediately get treatment from a capable facility or hospital due to bureaucratic processes,” they lamented.

They also informed the SC that a male inmate had already died last March 25 at the Quezon City Jail on possible COVID-19 infection, while a Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) employees has been confirmed to have been tested positive with the virus.

Since the country has been tagged as one of the worst in prison overcrowding, the petitioners also pointed out that “overcrowding of jails has led to pulmonary diseases and thousands of deaths each year as admitted by a prison hospital doctor.”

Due to the threat of COVID-19, the petitioners said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has already called to call for the immediate release of vulnerable prisoners all over the world with several countries responding to the call including the US, Canada, Germany, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, and England, Ireland and Wales, Iran, Sri Lanka and Egypt.

“Sadly, the Philippines has yet to respond to this call,” lamented the petitioners who pointed out “nothing is said about the national and integrated plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities such as detention facilities.”

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