SC petitioners refute OSG: COVID-19 cases in jails show inability to prevent virus spread

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 27 2020 09:58 PM

MANILA – Citing the rising number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in jails, political prisoners who urged the Supreme Court for their temporary release refuted the claim of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that the Philippine government is doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus.

Petitioners cited COVID-19 cases at the Quezon City Jail, including a QC Jail inmate who died without having been tested for the coronavirus; Correctional Institute for Women; Cebu City Jail; and, New Bilibid Prison, which recently recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 death. 

“The existence of the foregoing confirmed and suspected cases shows the inability of prison authorities to prevent the transmission of the disease,” they said in their Reply filed Monday in response to the OSG’s Comment on Friday.

Quoting the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the OSG had argued the inmates are safer inside jails and listed the steps taken by government agencies in response to the threat of the pandemic, including the setting up of quarantine facilities.

But petitioners pointed out that despite the lockdowns imposed in jails since March, the virus still spread.

As of Monday afternoon, ABS-CBN News counted 280 inmates and jail staff across the country as having tested positive for the virus:

  • New Bilibid Prison – 1 inmate (dead)
  • Correctional Institution for Women – 48 inmates, 1 staff
  • Quezon City Jail – 9 inmates, 9 staff
  • Cebu City Jail – 212 inmates and staff (including 1 inmate dead).

Petitioners added, even under ordinary circumstances, “Philippine prisons, in general, are not equipped with adequate medical and healthcare facilities and human resources to respond to the basic needs of the inmates.”

Acknowledging the lack of rules governing treatment of inmates during public health emergencies, petitioners asked the high court to use equitable grounds.

“Equity should fill the gaps of the law, with technicalities giving way to the extremely difficult realities of petitioners‘ situation,” they said.

NO VIOLATION OF EQUAL PROTECTION

The inmates also denied the OSG’s claim that granting the inmates’ release will violate the equal protection clause, citing substantial distinction between them and other inmates on account of their age, health and status.

Most of the 22 petitioners are aged 55 years old and above with underlying medical conditions. One inmate has leprosy while another is pregnant.

Petitioners added, they filed their petition not just for themselves but also for others who are similarly-situated.

It is ironic, the inmates said, for the OSG to accuse them of violating the equal protection clause only to claim that the Enrile ruling only applies to the case of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

SC allowed Enrile to post bail in 2015 because of his failing health and because he was not considered a flight risk due to his social and political status and his immediate surrender.

“The respondents failed to justify why the petitioners, who are elderly and with failing health should not benefit from the ruling in Enrile,” they said.

PETITIONERS NOT THE ENEMY

Petitioners strongly rejected the OSG’s accusation that allegedly all members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) are taking advantage of the pandemic to be set free.

They called out the OSG’s attempt to paint them as high-ranking officers of “communist terrorist groups” undeserving of compassion and mercy.

“Aside from being execrable discharges of malicious conjectures, they readily reveal a deep-seated cynicism and callousness not only with respect to the humanitarian considerations of the law, but also to the capacity of this Honorable Court to devise carefully crafted mechanisms aimed at adhering to the imperatives of human compassion and international law principles while preserving its jurisdiction over the subjects of legal processes,” they said.

“The enemy is COVID-19 and not the petitioners,” they added.