By Ernie Reyes
A massively overcrowded jail in Quezon City (Photo courtesy by CNN Ph)
MANILA — Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has recently penned a letter to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) asking the government to hasten the vaccination drive to Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs), who are struggling in cramped jails and correctional facilities around the country.
In a letter addressed to IATF Chief Implementer Sec. Carlito Galvez, De Lima reiterated the harrowing conditions of PDLs in overcrowded national jails and detention facilities especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where minimum health standards, including physical distancing, are difficult to observe and implement.
“This representation respectfully suggests that our PDLs likewise be considered to move up the [vaccination priority] list, particularly in areas with high COVID-19 incidence,” De Lima said.
“I implore the IATF to take into consideration the particular vulnerabilities in the case of the PDLs as justification for their immediate vaccination,” she added.
De Lima, a human rights champion and staunch advocate of restorative justice, laid out the pressing issues hounding detention facilities that are operating beyond their capacities, such as the Manila City Jail (376%), Quezon City Jail (482%) and the New Bilibid Prison (343%), among others.
“The crowded jails result in less physical distancing. Poor nourishment and sanitation increase the vulnerability of the PDLs to COVID-19 infection. And the limited access to health services means that there is a greater chance that PDLs develop severe or possibly fatal cases of COVID-19 with very little support or treatment available,” De Lima noted.
“Many of our PDLs in our jails are still being tried and have yet to be convicted of the charges against them. Thus, they still enjoy the constitutional presumption of innocence. It would be yet another injustice for them if they were to be infected by COVID-19 in spite of the availability of inoculation,” she added.
De Lima also reminded the IATF that the government are responsible for the PDLs and it is their sworn duty to keep them well.
“The tragedy is that the PDLs do not have control of their situation. During their incarceration, they are wards of the State and almost exclusively depend on our government for their safety and welfare,” De Lima said.
It can be recalled that this is not the first time that De Lima pleaded with the government to give more consideration to PDLs. In April last year, she was among the first public officials who advocated for a systematic mass release based “on humanitarian grounds”, of elderly PDLs, as well as those who have serious illnesses or disabilities.
As former justice secretary, De Lima has constantly pushed for legislative measures to implement comprehensive reforms in the country’s prison and correctional system and uphold humane treatment of PDLs.
In 2019, De Lima refiled Senate Bill (SB) No. 1146, otherwise known as “Medical Parole Act of 2020” to grant gravely-ill PDLs the chance to serve out their sentence under their families’ care or seek better medical care outside the correctional facilities.
She also filed SB Nos. 180 and 181, known as “Prison Reform Act,” and the “Unified Corrections and Jail Management System Act,” respectively, in order to improve organizational structures within the jail/correctional system, legislate the standards of humane treatment of PDLs and institutionalize rehabilitative policies and programs. (AI/MTVN)