[As COVID19 surge in jails] Release vulnerable inmates, elderly and sickly political prisoners

The increasing cases of COVID-19 inside congested jails warrant the immediate release of immunocompromised and vulnerable inmates, according to farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. Since March, six inmates already died due to the coronavirus.

Based on the data released by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), as of June 11, a total of 745 prisoners and 125 personnel have tested positive for the virus. Among the 745 prisoners, 321 are classified as active cases, 388 have recovered, and 6 have died. Among the personnel, 60 are active cases, while 65 have recovered and no death was recorded.

The Supreme Court said it allowed the release of 9,741 inmates including prisoners sentenced to jail for six months or below, as well as qualified elderly and ailing prisoners. However, the High Court has yet to act on the petition to grant temporary freedom for 22 political prisoners based on humanitarian grounds. “We cannot afford to lose more lives. We demand the immediate release of sickly inmates, including elderly political prisoners,” says Danilo Ramos, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.  
As of March 28, 2020, there are 609 political prisoners that are detained in various jail facilities in the country; 63 of them are sick, many afflicted with life-threatening and debilitating illnesses, and 47 are elderly. Among them are peasant leader Dario Tomada, 67 years old, who has hypertension and diabetes, and elderly couples Jesus and Moreta Alegre, and peace consultant Frank Fernandez and wife Cleofe Lagtapon who are all sickly senior citizens.
More than 450 jails nationwide currently hold some 136,000 inmates, according to BJMP and the prison congestion is at a staggering 534 percent. Global data shows that there are 215,000 people held in facilities that meant to house only about 41,000 people.
“The risk of COVID-19 community transmission is very high in congested jails and inmates are just waiting to die inside prisons, says Ramos who noted the demise of elderly and sickly political prisoner Adelaida ‘Ede’ Macusing last May 4 in Tagum City, Davao. Macusing was a former leader of the Montevista Farmers Association. She was arrested in March 2018 and framed with trumped-up charges of illegal possession of explosives. 
“Instead of releasing vulnerable inmates, the government is taking in more prisoners as a result of illegal arrests and detention,” the KMP leader concluded. ###  

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