By REBECCA OLORVIDA
MANILA – Relatives and supporters of political prisoners have called on the Philippine government to ease the overcrowding in prisons as it may lead to widespread infections.
“The extreme congestion of Philippine prisons create a perfect petri dish to seed immense infections by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. We call on the government and prison agencies to immediately extend the alert level to prison facilities and ramp up COVID-19 immunization as well as mass testing of the entire prison population, covering both the persons deprived of liberty (PDL) and the prison staff,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid.
In the past few days, the Philippines has been recording all-time highs in its COVID-19 infection. Public health experts have attributed the surge in the local transmission of the Omicron variant of the virus, which is three to five times more transmissible compared to the Delta variant. Today, the country breahed its first three million total cases since the pandemic broke in 2020.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) was flagged by Commission on Audit (COA) last year for exceeding its jail capacity at 403 percent by holding 115,336 prisoners with just the ideal number of 34,893.
In the National Capital Region alone, the BJMP said there were 570 cases of COVID-19 infections.
In a report last week, the Bureau of Corrections said that 46,405 out of the 48,572 persons deprived of liberty (PDL), or 94.8 percent, have been vaccinated, of whom 25,238 were fully inoculated. Meanwhile, some 560 PDLs of the Correctional Institution for Women in Davao have yet to be inoculated, said Kapatid.
“Because of prejudice against prisoners and also because they don’t vote although those under trial have not lost their right to vote. The national government has to step in to subsidize regular mass testing, exigent vaccination, and health care of the incarcerated who subsist amid subhuman conditions,” said Lim on the reason behind the lagging of vaccination inside the prisons.
Kapatid filed a petition before the Supreme Court last year calling for the humanitarian release of at-risk PDLs and political prisoners. The Supreme Court, however, essentially denied this urgent plea, referring families and supporters of prisoners vulnerable to the deadly virus to the respective trial courts handling their criminal cases.