March 20, 2020
METRO MANILA – Church group National Council of Churches in the Philippines supported the appeal of Kapatid, a group of families and relatives of political prisoners, to the government to release the sick, elderly and “low-level” prisoners. The NCCP said releasing them is a Christian and compassionate gesture in the midst of the pandemic especially since massive testing in the country is still not in place.
Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, NCCP General Secretary, expressed grave concern for the prisoners amid the rising number of COVID 19 cases in the country. Bishop Marigza said, “Current measures in prisons are clearly insufficient. Without massive testing, the overcrowded prisons in the country is a health disaster waiting to happen. We cannot simply accept what the Bureau of Corrections is saying that prisons in the country are still free of cases of COVID 19 even though tests were not administered there. Before disaster strikes, set them free!”
According to Bureau of Corrections January statistics, its prison facilities are overcrowded by 310 percent as 49, 114 inmates occupy prisons that have a maximum capacity of 11, 981 persons. Justice Secretary Guevarra has already admitted that a single COVID-19 case inside could cause “calamitous effects”.
“Besides, the call for release is selective, only those who will definitely suffer like the sick and the elderly and of course, the prisoners of conscience who have been wrongfully imprisoned because of their political beliefs”, Bishop Marigza added.
The call for the release of prisoners came in the wake of Iran’s gesture to free thousands of its prisoners. The heavily congested prisons in the country are full of detainees that come from the poor, especially after the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines is the largest aggrupation of mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic churches in the country.