MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Leila De Lima is calling for the “systematic mass release” of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) from jails and prisons in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.
In an open letter released Wednesday, De Lima urged the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to release PDLs, except those detained for heinous crimes, based on humanitarian grounds.
The senator, who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police detention center in Quezon City, proposed the release of elder PDLs (70 years old above), those with serious illness or disabilities, those detained pre-conviction for minor offenses, and those convicted for minor non-violent crimes.
“With the number of arrests and detentions piling up, even during the Enhanced Community Quarantine, and persons, including BuCor [Bureau of Corrections] and BJMP [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] officials and personnel, presumably still going in and out of our jails and prisons on a regular basis, it is only a matter of time before COVID-19 infects our PDLs,” De Lima noted.
“Given the state of our jails and prisons, the infection rate will be catastrophic. It might even lead to prison riots and similar violent incidents,” she added.
The senator presented the solution on grounds of Philippine jails and prisons being in poor conditions, making basic protocols against COVID-19 such as social distancing physically impossible.
In March 2019, the BJMP disclosed that the congestion rate of jail facilities in the country is at 441.71%, with around 136,000 PDLs detained in 476 facilities nationwide that are meant to only accommodate a total of 30,000 inmates. In Metro Manila, the BJMP recorded a congestion rate of 608% in April last year.
Citing BuCor data, De Lima also pointed out that nationwide, there are only 13 doctors who oversee health facilities that serve jails and prisons.
Earlier this month, the Iranian government allowed the temporary release of around 85,000 PDLs also in an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
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