Political detainees and their families filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to have vulnerable prison populations released on humanitarian grounds amid the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
In a petition filed Wednesday morning, April 8, the group Kapatid seeks the High Tribunal’s “compassionate intervention” and “exercise of equity jurisdiction” for the release of select prisoners, including political detainees.
The lead petitioners are 22 political prisoners who are mostly elderly and sick, including six women, one of whom has leprosy while another is five-months pregnant.
Kapatid said the petitioners are all vulnerable to the highly infectious virus.
“They are held in prison facilities in Metro Manila where it is practically impossible to practice self-isolation, physical distancing, and other Covid-19 precautions,” Kapatid said in a statement.
The group said they are also calling for the release of all other sick and elderly prisoners on humanitarian grounds, including those who are about to finish their prison terms or are about to be paroled or pardoned.
Kapatid cited United Nations High Commisioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s appeal to have vulnerable prisoners released in order to decongest prisons that might serve as Covid-19 incubators.
Iran, Egypt, and most recently Morocco have released tens of thousands of prisoners in an effort to prevent the spread of disease in the mostly congested penal institutions.
Earlier, human rights group Karapatan, citing official reports, said that Philippine prisons are bursting with 450% overcapacity, making the prison populations vulnerable to Covid-19.
In its petition, Kapatid recommends the creation of a prisoner release committee, similar to those set up in other countries, “to urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons throughout the country who are similarly vulnerable but cannot be included in this Petition due to the difficult circumstances.”
Such mechanism shall be in charge of issuing “ground rules relevant to the release of eligible prisoners.”
Eligible prisoners should include low-level offenders as well as those eligible for parole, including 44 political prisoners in Bureau of Correction (BuCor) facilities, the group recommends.
“[We] pray for the Honorable Court’s compassion and protection of their right to life and health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. (We) pray that they be released on humanitarian considerations through bail, recognizance or other non-custodial measures. The continued incarceration of the sick and elderly would be a virtual death sentence,” the petition reads.
The Office of the Solicitor General, Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Eduardo Año, Department of Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology director Allan Iral, BuCor director Gerald Bantag, and six wardens are the named respondents of the petition. The petitioners are Dionisio Almonte, Ireneo Atadero Jr., Emmanuel Bacarra, Oscar Belleza, spouses Alexander and Winona Birondo, Lilia Bucatcat, Rey Casambre, Ferdinand Castillo, spouses Francisco Fernandez Jr. and Cleofe Lagtapon, Renante Gamara, Vicente Ladlad, Ediesel Legaspi, Norberto Murillo, Reina Nasino (pregnant), Ge-Ann Perez (leprosy), Oliver Rosales, Adelberto Silva, Dario Tomada, and spouses Alberto and Virginia Villamor.
Kapatid was assisted by the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers in drafting and filing the petition. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)