MANILA, Philippines – A group composed of families of political prisoners on Monday, March 23, called on the Duterte administration to allow mass testing of prisoners amid the rise of novel coronavirus cases in the Philippines.
In a statement, KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim says this will “assure us that jails under their jurisdiction are indeed ‘100% safe,'” as claimed by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
“It stretches the imagination how the world’s most congested prison system can be kept ‘100% safe’ from the virulent COVID-19 when it cannot even provide hygiene essentials like soap and water nor ensure nutritious food and space for social distancing, but that is the stuff of confabulation,” she said.
“Amusing but dangerous when human life is at stake,” Lim added.
Año assured the public stringent measures against the virus are in place in jails under the supervision of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).
At least 380 out of its 467 jails supervised by BJMP are congested, as of October 2019, posing a 450% congestion rate which translates to 6 detainees occupying space only meant for one.
Data from January 2020, meanwhile, shows Bureau of Corrections facilities have a 310% congestion rate, with 49,114 PDLs scattered across its 7 facilities that only have a total maximum capacity of 11,981.
BuCor Chief Gerald Bantag said they have disinfected the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and have procured N95 masks, gloves, disposable ponchos, and alcohol.
KAPATID reiterated its appeal and added that the only way to protect prisoners is to carry out humanitarian releases of sick, elderly, and low-level offenders.
“The release of prisoners during this extreme public health emergency is now the worldwide trend, with the DILG’s counterparts in other countries like Iran, the US, Ireland, and Spain rapidly working with the courts to release many prisoners, including political prisoners as in the case of Iran,” Lim said.
The Philippines has recorded at least 462 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus as of Monday, March 23, with 33 deaths and 18 recoveries.
According to the tracker of the Department of Health, it already conducted 1,622 tests so far. (IN CHARTS: PH lags behind other countries in COVID-19 testing)