“No prisoner can be safe from the rising threats of the highly contagious disease inside the world’s most overcrowded and ill-equipped prison facilities with the most haphazard policies.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Elderly and sick persons who have been deprived of liberty (PDL) should be included in the government’s priority vaccination list.
This was the contention of a human rights group adding that these groups are also most at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
“We ask that they be placed in the A-2 and A-3 priority classifications, in the same way that seniors and those with co-morbidities, respectively, are placed in those categories,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a support group of families and friends of political prisoners.
The A-2 list includes senior citizens aged 60 years old and above while the A-3 include persons with comorbidities.
“No prisoner can be safe from the rising threats of the highly contagious disease inside the world’s most overcrowded and ill-equipped prison facilities with the most haphazard policies,” Lim said adding that “while more and more groups are being accommodated for priority listing for vaccination, we are given the runaround on our appeal for the immediate inclusion and scheduling of persons deprived of liberty, including political prisoners, in the national vaccination program.”
In a Rappler report, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted that due to lack of space in prisons, PDLs are highly vulnerable to contracting the virus. He said that the Department of Justice “will make sure that PDLs will also be vaccinated like everyone else.” However, he added that PDLs are not among those who will be prioritized under the vaccination program because they are not frontliners.
Kapatid earlier reached out to Health Secretary Francisco Duque, head of the Inter-Agency Task Force, to include all prisoners as part of the most at-risk populations who need to get inoculated first due to extreme congestion in prisons.
“The elderly and sick prisoners should be put in higher priority groups instead of lumping them under the B-9 general classification for PDLs that the DOH informed us about. They are most medically vulnerable because subhuman prison conditions put them in greater danger of death during this worsening pandemic,” Lim said.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general, said that “human rights of PDLs are not cancelled inside jails, so is the threat of getting COVID-19, especially now.”
“Prisons are ticking time bombs since the start of the pandemic. Even as jails remain in lockdown, jail congestion, almost no physical distancing and the already dire health conditions of prisoners pre-pandemic, are more than enough reasons to hasten plans and schedule for additional protection against the virus for thousands of PDLs nationwide,” Palabay said.
Palabay also asserted that the Philippine government should conform with international guidelines such as the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recently updated Health in Prisons Programme, which now includes the preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention.
“The WHO reiterated that the provision of health care for people in prisons and other places of detention is a state responsibility,’ and emphasized that ‘people in prisons and other places of detention should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the outside community, without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.’” Palabay said.
Palabay also cited that the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has likewise identified detention facilities in its Stage III priority for vaccines due to their “inability to social distance.”
Meanwhile, Lim questioned the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) statement that the country’s prison facilities were managed well in the midst of the health crisis.
“In the Philippines, how can the DILG say that prisons are being managed well when we are being kept in the dark? No one except the prison heads know what’s really going on while many deaths are being reported for unknown reasons,” she said.
She pointed out that in the same period last year, the DILG also announced that prisons are 100-percent COVID-free. However weeks after, cases of COVID-19 infections and deaths in prisons started to increase.
Meanwhile, Palabay asserted their call to expedite the release of prisoners who have served their sentence, or those who unjustly remain in detention due to the slow judicial processes.
“It is both a way to decongest prisons, and a path to justice for those who have been wrongfully incarcerated. We stand with the call that the immediate humanitarian release of prisoners who are elderly, sick, nursing mothers and pregnant women is timely, urgent, and just,” Palabay said.
In April last year, the family of political prisoners filed a petition in the Supreme Court for humanitarian release of political prisoners who are sick and elderly. The High Court have released its decision to the public in September, ordering the trial courts to conduct necessary proceedings for the possible release of the prisoners.
Featured image by Photo by Mufid Majnun/Unsplash.com