By Joseph Cuevas
PROGRESSIVE GROUPS and individuals joined an online campaign Monday night, March 31, demanding the freedom of all political prisoners amidst the threat of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
According to human rights group Karapatan that initiated the campaign, #FreePoliticalPrisonersPh and #SetThemFree became trending for two hours and ranked numbers 29 and 30 respectively in the country.
The online campaign followed the appeal of relatives of political prisoners and the call of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for governments to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention since, in many countries, “detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so.”
“People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology reported a 450% jail congestion rate nationwide last October with 380 out of 467 detention facilities in the country filled beyond capacity while a 310% congestion rate were recorded by the Bureau of Corrections this January, Karapatan said.
Karapatan emphasized that the inhumane conditions in prisons imperil the life and health of detainees, particularly the sick, the elderly, as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers.
They also added that the “State policy on public health measures must be implemented, not militarist and punitive measures like mass arrests that only criminalize and punish the poor and the marginalized while failing to address their legitimate needs and demands.”
As of March 28, there are 609 political prisoners in the country, 100 of whom are women.
The group added that 47 political prisoners in its list are elderly while 63 suffer from serious ailments.
Earlier, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza made similar appeals for the release of political prisoners, as well as other sick and elderly prisoners, including those about to be paroled or pardoned, to decongest the country’s jails and prevent a further outbreak of the virus. #