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Start inoculating prisoners, rights group presses gov’t

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.

‘Mixed messaging’

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.

 ‘Death traps’

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)

Activists denounce Beep card fee increase

SAN PABLO, Laguna—Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) denounced the increase in the price of automated fare collection system (AFCS) cards used in Metro Manila trains, buses and jeepneys now costing P30.00 from the previous P20.00. 

Following the new year announcement of the increase, each new card costing P100 automatically charges P30, leaving the consumer with only P70 credit.

“This is an automatic fee increase that did not go through any public hearing. There is also no explanation in the contract why the private concessionaire is entitled to a fee increase,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.

The fee increase is included in the current contract between the government and the private consortium AF Payments Inc. of the Ayala and Metro Pacific groups. 

“It is simply a profit guarantee for private interests. This is an onerous provision in the contract and goes against public policy,” Reyes said, blaming the previous Department of Transportation and Communication for the deal and the current Department of Transportation (DoTr) for its failure to review this provision of the contract.

Reyes said their alliance of progressive groups will ask the DoTr to say for the record if the private concessionaire has paid the government the P800 million transaction fee that it is supposed to pay. 

He revealed that in the private consortium’s current bid offer, it pays government only P278 million as gross availability payment, instead of a one-time P1 billion concession fee. 

“The private concessionaires will pay government P865 million only when beep card transactional volume reaches 750 million per quarter, a very high standard,” Reyes explained.

The activist leader believes that such a high transaction volume can only be reached towards the ninth or 10th year of the contract. 

“If so, this means that the private concessionaires have been profiting from the Beep card business even without paying the government any concession fee. This is another onerous provision in the contract,” he added.

Right off the AFCS contract’s implementation in October 2015, Reyes questioned its four-year renewal clause, asking “Why are the beep cards for MRT and LRT valid only up to December 2019? Because the AFCS private concessionaire plans to issue more expensive Beep cards by 2020.”

“By 2020, fares would have also gone up. Your P100 minimum card purchase may only be good for two rides,” Reyes claimed then.  

Reyes asks the Rodrigo Duterte government through the Department of Justice to look into the AFCS contract, charging it is lopsided in favor of big businesses and disadvantageous to commuters. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Ang pagpapalaya kay Sanchez ay panggagahasa sa ating lahat’

Nakisama sa rali noong Biyernes sa Department of Justice sa Maynila ang mamamahayag na si Bum Tenorio. Ayon sa kanyang kwento, nakita niya dalawampu’t anim na taon na ang nakakaraan, ang bangkay ni Aileen Sarmenta noong natagpuan ito sa bayan ng Calauan, Laguna.

Panoorin ang bahagi ng talumpati ni Tenorio sa kilos protesta sa sinasabing posibleng pagpapalaya sa naggahasa at nagpapatay kay Sarmenta at hindi bababa sa tatlo pang biktima na si dating Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez.