MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged government Wednesday to "equally consider" detainees and prisoners as "priority population" in its COVID-19 inoculation drive given their vulnerability to the virus inside the Philippines' notoriously congested jails.
"The Commission on Human Rights argues that persons deprived of liberty must be equally considered to be a priority population given the multitude of vulnerabilities they face inside detention facilities around the country," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
Earlier, judges, prosecutors and public attorneys have separately sought approvals from the National Task Force COVID-19, but Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday detainees and prisoners are not yet part of the priority list for vaccination.
As early as March, however, KAPATID, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, already urged the government to include the more than 215,000 prisoners in the COVID-19 mass vaccination program.
The CHR reminded the government that "the right to health is an internationally recognized fundamental right belonging to prisoners."
"In developing national vaccination plans, it should not discriminate against those held in detention... Those who are high risk inmates for COVID-19 should be prioritized for inoculation with the same treatment with comparative groups in the general population," De Guia said, adding their recommendation was "in consonance" with the proposal of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that governments have an obligation to provide vaccines for groups that are at high risk of contagion, such as incarcerated people.
The CHR cited overcrowding, unsatisfactory health care services in prisons and detention facilities, and higher rates of pre-existing medical conditions among inmate populations especially the elderly to justify their suggestion.
In December 2019, the Bureau of Corrections posted a 302% congestion rate while the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology fared worse with a 534% congestion rate as of March 2020.
Prior to the pandemic, the NBP already reported that 1 inmate died every day, while 300 to 800 BJMP inmates died every year.
From January to July 19, 2020, 476 convicts died in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections, of which 21 was due to COVID-19.
Among those who died of the coronavirus were high-profile inmates including Jaybee Sebastian, who testified against detained Sen. Leila de Lima; car theft syndicate leader Raymond Dominguez; and rape-slay convict former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez.
- with reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News