De Lima pushes anew for systematic release of qualified PDLs


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima reiterates her recommendation to   decisively release qualified PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty), after reports that a detainee in the overcrowded Quezon City jail, who was suspected of contracting the novel coronavirus, has recently passed away.

De Lima again asked the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-IED) to consider her previous proposal after reports came that 15 detainees sharing the same cell with the deceased PDL were supposedly traced and isolated.

“I again call upon the IATF-IED to consider the immediate release of qualified PDLs. Hindi na po totoo na ‘100 percent safe’ ang ating mga kulungan mula sa COVID-19,” she said.

The silence of our leaders regarding the dire situation of our PDLs is almost deafening. Ano pa ba ang hinihintay natin? Na dumami pa ang magpositibo sa COVID-19 sa mga bilangguan?”, she added.

Last April 1, De Lima addressed an open letter to the IATF-IED, recommending for arrangements to decongest jails and prisons through a systematic release of qualified PDLs based on humanitarian grounds, with permission and approval from the Supreme Court.

The detainees or inmates to be released, she said, must fall under certain criteria, such as those 70 years old or older; with serious sickness or disability; detained pre-conviction of minor, non-violent cases; and convicted for non-violent crimes.

De Lima also emphasized though that those who have been detained or convicted of heinous crimes, should not be included for consideration for early release.

The former justice secretary’s earlier recommendation was in accordance to preventive measures made by many governments around the world who made similar arrangements to release detainees, adhering to calls of human rights organizations, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She advised that a staggered release of detainees and inmates, from the most overcrowded detention facilities can be implemented in areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the National Capital Region (NCR).

“Kung hindi pa kaya ang pagpapakawala sa mga kwalipikadong mga preso sa lahat ng mga detention facilities sa buong bansa, maaari natin simulan sa mga city jails sa NCR,” De Lima said.

“Marami sa kanila, tulad ng mga preso sa Quezon City Jail, ay mahihirap. Many of them are supposed to be out already, but they aren’t because they cannot afford bail,” she added.

The health and economic crisis brought by COVID-19 pandemic has halted the normalcy of life of millions of people around the world. As of this writing, over 1.1 million people globally has contracted the novel coronavirus, with more than 62,700 deaths or a mortality rate of 5.54%.

As of April 6, the Philippines have recorded 3,660 confirmed cases of infections, leaving 163 dead with 73 recoveries.

De Lima also reminded the IATF-IED that the whole-of-nation approach in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic should not set aside or ignore the situation of hundreds of thousands of PDLs, considered to be wards of the State.

“Malinaw ang hangad natin: Maiwasan o maagapan ang pagkalat ng sakit sa mga bilangguan kung saan matagal nang problema ang labis na pagsisiksikan at napakataas ng posibilidad ng pagkahawa-hawa,” she said.

De Lima, a human rights and social justice champion, has continually sought for comprehensive reforms in the country’s prison and correctional systems, including upgrading its current facilities and improving the reformatory programs for the inmates.

It can be recalled that in July 2019, she filed Senate Bill Nos. 180 and 181, known as “Prison Reform Act,” and the “Unified Corrections and Jail Management System Act,” respectively, in order to legislate the standards of human treatment of the inmates. (30)

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