URGENT APPEAL FOR ACTION
TO RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS AMID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
March 29, 2020
Dear friends and fellow human rights defenders,
As the world grapples with the impacts of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19), several measures have been put into place such as physical distancing measures, home or community quarantines, or lockdowns to mitigate the continuing transmission of the disease.
We, however, express grave concern that the COVID-19 pandemic also poses a serious threat to the thousands of prisoners held in various detention facilities in the Philippines — facilities that are overcrowded and congested far beyond their capacities. We fear that the conditions in prisons, if left unaddressed, will add to the catastrophic loss of hundreds if not thousands of lives to this pandemic. The rights and welfare of detainees must be upheld especially as we face this public health crisis.
Prisons in the Philippines are not safe from COVID-19. Contrary to the assertions made by the Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary, Eduardo Año, the high congestion rates in detention facilities in the country, combined with the overall lack of clean water, nutritious food, sanitation, and inadequacy of medical services make detention facilities in the country a perfect breeding ground for disease outbreaks.
As of October 2019, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology recorded a 450% jail congestion rate, with a total of 133,316 persons deprived of liberty nationwide. At least 380 out of the 467 detention facilities in the Philippines are congested. The Cebu City Jail has almost 6,000 inmates, while Manila City Jail houses over 5,000. Quezon City Jail, the third most populated prison in the country, has almost 3,700 detainees. Medical reports state that about 5,200 inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City die annually due to overcrowding, disease and violence — and the overcrowding in prison has led to unmanageable outbreaks of pulmonary tuberculosis last year.
Thousands of detainees in the country suffer from subhuman conditions, with a cell that could ideally accommodate only 6 individuals ending up housing at least 80 people together. Physical distancing and self-quarantine measures imposed as part of the “enhanced community quarantine” are practically impossible inside the detention facilities precisely because of these dismal conditions, placing the most vulnerable among the prisoners at greater risk of contracting the virus.
As of March 28, 2020, there are 609 political prisoners that are in various facilities in the country; 63 of them are sick, many afflicted with life-threatening and debilitating illnesses, and 47 are elderly.
Among the said political prisoners are:
• Ge-Ann Perez, a 20-year-old political prisoner who suffers from leprosy, whose life had been endangered by military forces after being deprived of medication and access to medical attention, causing her condition to relapse;
• 66-year old peace consultant Frank Fernandez, and his wife Cleofe Lagtapon, who are both suffering from various physical ailments;
• Negros farmer couple Moreta and Jesus Alegre, 73 and 74, who are suffering from hypertensive cardiovascular disease as well as hypertension and arthritis, respectively;
• Virginia Villamor, 68, who is suffering from hypertension, and her husband Alberto, 65, who is also detained and suffering from diabetes and just recovered from a stroke last 2018;
• Reina Mae “Ina” Nacino, 22, who was illegally detained last November based on trumped up charges and is currently on her fifth month of pregnancy; and
• Gerardo dela Peña, an 80-year old political prisoner currently suffering from hypertension, among other conditions brought by old age.
We urgently appeal for the mass decongestion of prisons in the country through the release of prisoners — particularly political prisoners — following the call of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that, now more than ever, “governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.”
The plight of political prisoners must be urgently addressed by the government — and political prisoners, especially the elderly, sick with chronic, debilitating or terminal medical conditions, pregnant women and nursing mothers, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner couples and accidental victims of political arrests should be released immediately on just and humanitarian grounds.
We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos, human rights defenders and social justice activists to support our campaign for the release of political prisoners, especially now as the country faces a deadly pandemic. The Duterte administration must act with utmost urgency to prevent this looming disaster in our detention facilities that will seriously threaten the life, health, and security of prisoners. We also strongly reiterate our call to grant omnibus amnesty to all political prisoners and drop all the fabricated charges against them.
Our deepest gratitude in advance for your solidarity and support!
We enjoin you to release statements and send letters calling for the release of political prisoners to the following:
Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Republic
E-mail: email@example.com or send a message through http://op-proper.gov.ph/
Mr. Diosdado M. Peralta, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Menardo Guevarra, Secretary of the Department of Justice
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Mr. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights
PUBLIC INFORMATION DESK
Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
2nd Flr. Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin corner Matatag Sts., Central District
Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES 1101
Telefax: (+63 2) 4354146
KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.