A support group for political detainees pressed the government to start inoculating prisoners, citing the higher possibility of coronavirus outbreaks inside the country’s overcrowded and poorly-ventilated jail facilities.
“Kapatid presses the national government to release a clear schedule for the vaccination of all prisoners, including the 704 political prisoners, in the national deployment plan for COVID-19 vaccines because the congested prison system places them at significant higher risk for the disease,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.
The group Kapatid made the call after justice secretary Menardo Guevarra said that ordinary prisoners are not yet part of the priority list for the government’s vaccination activities against the increasingly contagious and deadly COVID-19.
Guevarra said that only elderly prisoners are eligible for early vaccination.
“[W]hile waiting for their turn to get vaccinated like the rest of the population, these [non-elderly] PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) will just have to follow minimum health protocols to reduce the risk of viral transmission,” Guevarra, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Against COVID-19 member, said.
Lim said Guevarra’s statement however contradicts an earlier assurance by the Department of Health (DOH) that “all persons deprived of liberty as determined by Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) are included under the Priority Eligible Group B-9.”
Kapatid asked DOH secretary and IATF Against COVID-19 chairperson Francisco Duque last March 2 to included all prisoners among the first to be vaccinated as part of the most “at-risk populations.”
DOH undersecretary and National Vaccine Operations Center chairperson Dr. Myrna Cabotaje told the rights group that prisoners are already identified for inclusion in the priority eligible population on the basis of stratifying the risks for contracting COVID-19 infection.
“So we quote to Secretary Guevarra the very words of the DOH in their reply to us: ‘Health is an absolute human right. No Filipino will be denied their right to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine. The national government assures you that every consenting Filipino will receive the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine, to protect the life and health of every citizen, including all Political Prisoners,’” she added
“Shouldn’t the DOJ and the whole national government be saying the same thing to everyone?” Lim asked.
Lim said it is ironic that the DOJ whose mandate includes the supervision of the BuCor should contradict the DOH statement and ignore the plight of over 215,000 prisoners compelled to live in subhuman conditions.
“This apparently may be yet another case of mismanagement from the top that results in mixed messaging,” Lim said.
Kapatid said extreme congestion inside the country’s prisons makes them “death traps” during the pandemic.
In November 2019, the BJMP reported that its 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent of capacity as of March of that year while the BuCor said that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was at 310 percent as of January 2019.
In October 2018, the Commission on Human Rights said “deplorable jail conditions” in the country are aggravated by the failure of the government, including police officers, to faithfully comply with even the minimum human rights standards and laws, such as the Anti-Torture Act (RA 9745). # (Raymund B. Villanueva)