“This chain of death is precisely the reason which we families of prisoners sought to avert with our petition to release vulnerable prisoners in order to save human life.”
By EMILY VITAL
MANILA – Solidarity groups based in Canada urged President Rodrigo Duterte to release political prisoners amid the worsening outbreak of COVID-19 in the Philippines’ congested prisons.
In a letter addressed to Duterte, Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR) said, “Punitive measures will do nothing but worsen the crisis.”
The CPHSR urged the Duterte administration “to exert its efforts to formulate and implement comprehensive, people-centered, and rights-based public health responses to avert the pandemic not only nationwide, but also inside the prisons and detention centers.”
The Vancouver and District Labour Council, which has 100 affiliate unions, noted that many countries across the globe have released prisoners in their hundreds or even thousands. “History will judge the Philippine government poorly if it does not follow suit and do all that is within its power to limit the death and human suffering brought about by the pandemic.”
Other groups who expressed support for the campaign to release Filipino political prisoners include United Church of Canada, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-Canada, Inter Pares, MiningWatch Canada, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, Po?le E?tudes contemporaines et transdisciplinaires sur l’Asie du Sud-Est – Univ. De Montre?al, Public Service Alliance of Canada, and Gabriela chapter in British Columbia.
Since the pandemic hit the country, the said organizations have stepped up efforts to also lobby the Canadian government as well as the Canadian embassy in the Philippines “to protect the human rights of prisoners throughout the pandemic and to advocate for the release of the most vulnerable non-violent and political prisoners.”
Based on Karapatan data, there are 619 political prisoners as of April 2020, of whom 55 are elderly aged 60 and above, and 97 suffer from illnesses that put them at greater risk from the new coronavirus disease.
Kapatid, an organization of families of political prisoners, welcomed the outpour of support.
Fides Lim, Kapatid spokesperson, lamented that the Supreme Court has yet to act on their urgent petition to release the elderly and sick prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
“As more groups support this call, we ask for speedier action as the deadly disease of COVID-19 spreads rapidly in overcrowded jails where physical distancing and isolation are impossible,” Lim said.
SC urged to release sick, elderly political prisoners amid COVID-19
Kapatid expressed alarm over the reported deaths inside prisons – 60 in March and another 60 in April in the New Bilibid Prison. One political prisoner, Adelaida Macusang, 61, was declared dead on arrival when she was brought to a Tagum hospital from the Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center on May 4.
“This chain of death is precisely the reason which we families of prisoners sought to avert with our petition to release vulnerable prisoners in order to save human life,” Lim said.
Kapatid said that out of the nearly 10,000 prisoners ordered released, not one political prisoner has so far been freed.
“We thus hope that the Supreme Court, in the spirit of justice, compassion and humanity, will address this and act now on our petition. NO ONE deserves to die from a virus without even a fighting chance to survive,” Lim said.