MANILA — A support group for political prisoners on Thursday appealed to the Department of Health to include medically vulnerable inmates in the country’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization plan.
“We thus press that the elderly PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) and those with grave illnesses, whom we focused on in our frustrated petition at the Supreme Court for humanitarian releases, be elevated for priority immunization as part of the most at-risk groups to directly control the spread of sickness and deaths inside prison facilities, which also affects the communities surrounding them,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of KAPATID, a support group composed of families and friends of political prisoners.
The group released the statement after it initially asked the government to include prisoners in the country’s mass vaccination program. The DOH replied on Thursday to assure KAPATID that “groups at significant high risk including all Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) as determined by the BJMP and BuCor, are included in the Priority Eligible Group B-9.”
Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje wrote that “no Filipino will be denied for his/her right to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine.”
Lim, wife of political prisoner Vicente Ladlad, said she worried about her husband who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD patients are among those at risk for severe COVID-19.
“Not a day passes that I also don’t worry for my own husband Vicente Ladlad, 71, a longtime activist foisted with planted firearms to keep him in indefinite detention. He suffers from ACOS (Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome), which has a higher disease burden than either condition alone and makes COPD sufferers like him more susceptible to COVID-19,” Lim said in her letter.
She mentioned that 2 political prisoners — Adelaida Macusang, 61, and Rodrigo Lazar, 44 — have died due to COVID-19.
“Of the 683 political prisoners as of January 2021, 96 are sick with life-threatening illnesses and 58 are elderly—all cramped in the same congested, disease-ridden prison facilities with the rest of the 215,000+ PDLs in the country,” Lim said.
She said 75-year-old political prisoner Jesus Alegre was also rushed to the Ospital ng Muntinlupa, because the “hospital at the New Bilibid Prison Maximum Security Compound is ill-equipped to care for him.”
She said another political prisoner, Elizabeth Estilon, 41, is scheduled to give birth soon.
Last year, COVID-19 clusters were detected in jails and other closed setting while the cases peaked in the Philippines.
KAPATID also asked for the specific categories under the priority eligible groups “for full transparency to reassure all sectors and groups how and wherein they are included in the national deployment plan of COVID-19 vaccination, which should have the required standards of safety and efficacy.”