March 4, 2021
QUEZON CITY – Human rights group Karapatan on Thursday, March 4, supported the call of families and friends of political prisoners for inclusion of thousands of prisoners, especially the elderly and sick, and pregnant women among them, in the Philippines for free, safe, and effective vaccination against COVID-19, as they contend with the country’s overcrowded detention facilities and poor health and nutrition situations in jails.
“The people’s right to health, including the right to free, safe and effective vaccines, should be upheld, at this time of a pandemic that has contributed to increased vulnerabilities of populations, including those in packed and poorly equipped prisons,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
Karapatan said that there are at least 680 political prisoners, 95 of them have various illnesses including life-threatening ones while 58 are elderly, out of the more than 200,000 prisoners in the country. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology said in December 2020 that there have been 1,987 cases of COVID-19 among persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).
“The cases of deaths and infections among prisoners clearly shows that they are part of those most at-risk from contracting the highly contagious and deadly disease that hit the country. These belie declarations of government officials a year ago when harped on the ‘safer’ conditions in jail despite irrefutable data on the susceptibility and vulnerabilities of those in prison to the virus,” she said.
Karapatan said that the prison population in the Philippines continues to be overwhelmed because of the dire lack of access to justice of the majority of poor prisoners and deeply-rooted defects of the justice system, including the criminalization of the exercise of political dissent or political beliefs in the country. It cited the “callous actions on the plea of elderly and sick political prisoners for humanitarian release during the pandemic.”
“Instead of being released on humanitarian and just grounds especially amid the pandemic, they experience multiple layers of injustice including being charged with and detained on trumped up criminal offenses,” she stated.
“Thus, it is the government’s responsibility and obligation to ensure the provision of timely, relevant and comprehensive health services for PDLs, including their access to free, safe, and effective vaccines,” ended Palabay.