MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Tuesday urged concerned government agencies to urgently act on the decongestion of the country's jails as the number of inmates and jail staff infected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increases.
CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, in a statement, called for swift action amid the urgency of the situation.
"The increasing number of jails with COVID-19 poses a growing threat to the health of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs). This necessitates urgent and decisive action to ensure that they are protected from the virus. As we have recommended early on, the plight of PDLs need to be guaranteed considering their vulnerability to the infectious disease due to congestion, jail conditions, and the impossibility of enforcing physical distancing in most places of detention," she said.
"However, comprehensive decongestion plans and efforts still need to be rolled out swiftly given the urgency of the situation. There is a need to move fast in establishing an ad hoc committee that will map out the guidelines for the temporary release of qualified PDLs, such as the elderly and the sick, those jailed for non-violent offences, and first time offenders among others," De Guia added.
The CHR said the government should also ensure the safety and well-being of those inmates who will be temporarily released, with basic needs like transportation and assistance to be provided during the crisis.
"We also recommend that such release addresses issues that PDLs will most likely encounter once they set foot outside of detention. These are transportation of PDLs back to their place of origin, support to those with no relatives, and assistance to the PDLs and their families during the period of crisis," De Guia said.
Aside from decongestion of jails, the CHR said risk mitigation measures must be implemented in jails, such as ensuring access to water and hygiene products, as well as regular sanitation and disinfection of jail cells.
"PDLs have the same inherent dignity and right to health as the general population. They are in detention so they may be reformed as they serve their sentence and may eventually reintegrate to society. Their health and life should not be imperiled while in custody," De Guia said.
As of Tuesday, there are 9 inmates and 9 personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 in Quezon City Jail, while 76 inmates and 80 personnel are COVID-19 positive in the New Bilibid Prison, according to CHR data.
Eighteen other inmates and a jail staff of the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City also tested positive for COVID-19, CHR added.
The Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator earlier reminded trial court judges to implement existing rules to decongest detention facilities, as jails begin reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases.