Press Release
July 22, 2020

More 'persons deprived of life' if pandemic timebombs in prisons not defused

The "PDL" stenciled on the prisoners' OOTD stands for "Person Deprived of Liberty." As we are still a government of laws, let us make sure that COVID will not change it to "Person Deprived of Life."

Our congested jails—where prisoners are no longer packed like sardines, but are stuffed like Spam in a can—are petri dishes for the coronavirus.

Prisons exist so offenders can pay for their crimes with their liberty, but not with their lives. The aim of restorative justice is to change them, and not to cause their cremation.

Our jails are full of people charged with petty crimes, like small-scale estafa or possession of a stick of marijuana. Although there is no verdict yet, they, however, are in real danger of being sentenced to death by COVID.

As of September last year, BJMP jails had a congestion rate of 386 percent, and BUCOR, 278 percent. Imagine this: the average prisoner cell space in the Philippines is 0.87 square meter, wala pang kalahati ng folding bed.

The virus does not discriminate on who to hit in these tight confines. The guard and the guarded are both vulnerable. In fact, hundreds of BJMP personnel had tested positive. It is in the public's interest that jails be COVID-free so jailors will not bring it back to their homes and communities.

There is no vaccine yet against this disease. But in the case of jails, there is one non-medicinal option that can prevent its spread, and that is to release those who have reached the minimum jail time if convicted, the old, the senile, and the sick.

A 2014 Supreme Court circular spells out the guidelines on the provisional release of inmates whose cases are not moving in courts. There is room for expansion of this order, to cover other qualified detainees, on humanitarian grounds, balanced with public safety.

This will not only defuse a public health timebomb, but is good expenditure policy as well.

Pre-pandemic, the cost of feeding, guarding and housing one inmate was about P100,000 in BJMP, and P91, 000 in BUCOR, per year. That is the board-and-lodging cost of one prisoner charged to taxpayers.

Of this amount, P31,000 represents the meal (P70 a day) and medicine (P15 a day) expenses of a prisoner annually.

There is a third agency in the prison republic, and that is the PNP, which maintains precinct-level holding areas. Per reports, 3,000 quarantine violators are locked up there, some for months, due to delays in inquest proceedings.

Kung nahuli ang mga ito sa mga checkpoints, inabutan ng curfew dahil walang masakyan at naglakad na lang, o walang pambili ng masks, the ends of justice require their release.

If physical distancing is impossible in crammed police stations, where offices and detention rooms are separated only by bars, then these are outbreaks waiting to happen—putting our policemen in harm's way and further congesting our already full hospitals.

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