March 28, 2020
QUEZON CITY – Church group National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) reiterated its call for the urgent release of political prisoners, those that are sick, with chronic or terminal disease, the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers, low-risk offenders, and those that are due for parole or pardon, as advised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet on March 26. “Let’s take it from the UN. There is an urgent need to address the catastrophic risks in prisons by releasing prisoners, especially now that the country is confronting numerous challenges due to this pandemic,” Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, NCCP General Secretary, said.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has recorded 394% congestion rate in prisons in the country, which by itself poses grave, potential and unmanageable outbreaks.
“As the number of positive COVID-19 cases spike up, the most Christian thing to do is to leave no one behind. Don’t forget those in prison, especially human rights defenders facing trumped charges, who have staunchly worked for social justice and human rights. They need compassion, they need justice and they need protection. They should be released under humanitarian grounds,” the General Secretary said.
This is after UN OHCHR Michelle Bachelet called on the governments to take urgent action to ensure health and safety in prisons and places of detention. “In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said.
“The government needs to quickly address the need to decongest detention facilities and prisons. We could start with the vulnerable groups – the sick and elderly, low-level prisoners, and political prisoners or those detained because of their political beliefs or by simply expressing dissent,” Bishop Marigza said.
“It is also deeply distressing that in a time of a public health crisis, authorities fixate on threats of imprisonment as punishment to disobedience. This does not only exacerbate the situation in our detention facilities, but also fails to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people,” Bishop Marigza ended.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines is the largest aggrupation of mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic churches in the country.