KAPATID appeals for release of low-offenders, elderly, sick prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines – Families of political prisoners appeal to the Duterte administration to mass release inmates and detainees inside congested facilities in the face of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines. 

In an open letter, KAPATID spokesperson Fides Lim said that the government should adopt the "Iran solution" for Philippine prisons as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increases by the day. 

Iran said it will temporarily release 54,000 people from prisons in a bid to stop the spread of virus. 

According to KAPATID, prisoners who are low-offenders, elderlies, sick, and "accidental victims of political arrests," among others, should be released.

"This is not only an urgent matter of life and death but also of justice," Lim said, adding that the group is ready to cooperate and dialogue with authorities to move forward with the proposal. 

The Philippines' prison system has long been the picture of overcrowded facilities, and groups are afraid that the dire situation will make persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

As of January 2020, the Bureau of Corrections has a 310% congestion rate, with 49,114 PDLs scattered across its 7 facilities that only have a total maximum capacity of 11,981. 

Data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) as of October 2019, meanwhile, shows that 380 out of its 467 jails are congested, posing a 450% congestion rate which translates to 6 detainees occupying space only meant for one. 

As of Saturday, March 14, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed a total of 111 cases in the country, with 8 people dying so far. 

"While we recognize the health basis for the lockdown of jails, we maintain that NO prison is a closed environment because prison personnel come and go inside the facilities, exposing the already most vulnerable to the spread of infection," Lim said. 

Below is the full open letter, with emphases provided by Kapatid.


Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.