Opposition Senator Leila de Lima has welcomed the mounting calls from several government agencies and international organizations to systematically release Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) to decongest detention facilities amid the continuing threat brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
De Lima’s statement came after the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the House Committee on Justice and other foreign and local organizations and personalities have expressed support to the proposal to release qualified detainees and inmates to lessen the possibility of a widespread COVID-19 infection in jail facilities.
“I welcome the calls of both the House Committee on Justice and the DSWD regarding the immediate release of qualified PDLs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. From what I have heard, the matter is now under study by the DOJ,” she said.
“Pero nandito pa rin tayo, usad-pagong sa mga plano; wala pa ring mapanghawakang kongkretong aksyon ukol sa kalunos-lunos na kalagayan sa mga bilangguan,” she added.
It can be recalled that last April 1, De Lima penned an open letter addressed to the Inter Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) listing her recommendations based on available data, studies and endorsements by reputable health and human rights experts.
Apart from the recommendations, which was also directly addressed to the IATF-EID members through a formal letter, there is plea for approval from the Supreme Court to grant medical paroles to elder PDLs and those with severe sicknesses or disabilities; and commuted sentences for both convicted and pre-conviction qualified PDLs.
“Sa usapin ng ating mga PDLs ay may konkreto at mabilisang aksyon tayong magagawa. May mga buhay na masasagip. May kapakanang maaalagaan. Ipakita na sana rito ang tunay na liderato at pagmamalasakit ng pamahalaan,” De Lima said.
“Nariyan na ang mga datos, at ang mga pahayag ng mga local and foreign health experts, pati na ng UN, at ang mga ahensya at sangay ng gobyerno. Wag na tayong magpatumpik-tumpik pa,” she added.
Since the initial lockdown in the National Capital Region last March 15, the IATF-EID has yet to make a recommendation to decongest jails to prevent mass infections of detainees and inmates. Malacañang has also kept it silence on the matter.
“May namatay na at mga na-isolate dahil sa exposure sa mga pinaghihinalaang may COVID-19. May hinihintay ba tayong bilang ng mga magkakasakit o mamamatay bago kumilos?” the lady senator from Bicol asked.
As Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, De Lima has proposed measures to improve conditions in detention centers and solve decongestion issues in these facilities.
Last November, De Lima refiled Senate Bill (SB) No. 1146, otherwise known as “Medical Parole Act of 2020” to grant gravely-ill PDLs the chance to serve out their sentence under their families’ care or seek better medical care outside the correctional facilities.
She also filed SB Nos. 180 and 181, known as “Prison Reform Act,” and the “Unified Corrections and Jail Management System Act,” respectively, in order to legislate the standards of human treatment of the inmates.
The COVID-19 crisis, which disrupted the economies and millions of lives around the world has more than 1.9 million confirmed cases and with a death toll of almost 120,000, as of April 13.
In the Philippines, where mass testing is yet to be rolled out, health authorities have disclosed 4,932 positive cases of contracting the novel coronavirus, with 315 deaths and 242 recoveries, as of April 13./Stacy Ang