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Covid-19: Church urges gov’t to protect inmates in prisons

Covid-19: Church urges gov’t to protect inmates in prisons

The New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. FILE PHOTO

By CBCP News

May 1, 2020

If ever there were a time to show compassion to low-risk and vulnerable inmates, it is now, the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care said.

As Covid-19 begins to hit jails and lockups around the country, ECPPC chair Bishop Joel Baylon urged the government to apply the compassionate aspect of the law during this pandemic.

In a statement released April 30, he urged President Duterte to use his clemency power to commute sentences of people eligible for compassionate release and other inmates at high-risk from the virus.

“We propose that in releasing qualified PDLs (persons deprived of liberties) to decongest our jails and prisons, priority should be given to the elderly, those who are sick and the youth,” Baylon said.

Among those that should be released, he said, are the those who were earlier freed through the benefits of good conduct time allowance, but were subsequently ordered rearrested.

In releasing the qualified prisoners, the bishop also asked that support services be given to them.

According to him, this can be in the form of transport services and inclusion in the Pantawid Buhay program of the government.

The Free Legal Assistance Group earlier asked the Supreme Court to look into requests for the release of qualified prisoners to decongest detention facilities in the country amid the threat of Covid-19.

As of the latest count, a total of 233 prisoners and jail personnel have contracted coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

Bishop Baylon also raised concern on the transfer of 18 Covid-19 positive inmates from the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

“We believe that transferring female PDLs to this male camp is not advisable,” he said.

The prelate stressed that transferring confirmed Covid-19 cases to the NBP will endanger all the prisoners and prison personnel in the country’s main penitentiary.

“At present, there are more than 7,000 inmates in this camp and this transfer will put other PDLs and even the prison officials and personnel in great jeopardy,” said Baylon.

Instead, he urged the authorities to bring the infected inmates to the adequate Covid-19 referral hospitals.

“We strongly recommend that they be placed in medical facilities, where their needs can be attended to properly, and not in penal institutions, where the possibility of transmitting the virus to other detainees and correctional personnel is very high,” said Baylon.

At least 18 CIW inmates found positive of Covid-19 have been transferred to the NBP to contain the spread of the virus within the Mandaluyong-based facility.