By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – With the death of yet another political prisoner, human rights group KAPATID called on Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo’s intervention to prevent more deaths, and to order an inspection of all prison facilities including quarantine centers.
KAPATID issued the call hours after peasant leader Joseph Canlas died, the fourth political prisoner to pass away during the pandemic. Canlas, chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson was arrested on March 30 and charged with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
Fides Lim, spokesperson of KAPATID, said in a statement, “This function is within the High Court’s judicial duties to protect the right to life and health of those in government custody. They include the political prisoners like Joseph Canlas who had various comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension but was never tested for COVID-19 until he was brought to the jail’s quarantine section.”
Lim lamented that Canlas’s death adds to “an unknown greater number the prisoners who have succumbed to the pandemic without even having a fighting chance to live because of government inaction on abysmal jail conditions.”
Citing reports in the United States, Lim said the average COVID-19 mortality rate in prisons was more than double the general population. “But in the Philippines, does the Supreme Court even know the true extent of prison deaths due to COVID-19 when prison agencies keep on just saying that prisons are COVID-free while neglecting systematic testing of prisoners?” Lim asked.
Lim, wife of political prisoner and peace consultant Vicente Ladlad, pointed out that their group has been urging the Duterte administration since last year to decongest jail populations and release older and medically at-risk detainees on humanitarian grounds.
In April last year, Lim and other relatives of at least 22 political prisoners filed a petition before the high court to release their relatives based on humanitarian grounds. The SC, however, released its decision after five months, redirecting the petitioners to the lower courts for petition for bail.
“We truly hope Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo will rise to the challenge required of his high office as lives are being lost because the judiciary is not holding the line, fair and firm,” KAPATID said.
Meanwhile, Canlas’s lawyer Luchi Perez said they will file charges against the jail management and the police for the tragic death of Canlas.
“Clearly, they failed to take the necessary measures in preventing this incident. There was no clear policy on health protocols, the inmates were not tested for COVID with around 90 to 100 detainees sharing the same quarantine facility in the Angeles City Jail,” Perez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said.
Perez added that the jail was informed days before Canlas was already having difficulty breathing yet authorities failed to take proper medical action. “And ultimately, we hold the police to account for the fabricated charges filed against our client,” Perez said.
Canlas died on May 11, Tuesday. The result of his swab test has not yet been released as of this writing.
According to Karapatan, nine political prisoners died in prison under the Duterte administration. Four of whom passed away during the lockdown. They are:
– Adelaida Macusang, 61, in Compostela Valley on May 4, 2020
– Rodrigo Lazar, 44, in Sorsogon, on Sept. 9, 2020
– Maximo Redota in Gumaca, Quezon, on May 9, 2021
Two babies of political prisoners namely, Baby River, daughter of Reina Mae Nasino, and Baby Carlen, daughter of political prisoners Nona Espinosa and Adidas Acero also died after being separated from their mothers.