De Lima asks gov't to free elderly, sick inmates to decongest prisons during COVID-19 crisis

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 01 2020 07:19 PM

MANILA - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Wednesday urged government to release some elderly and sick inmates to decongest jails where a potential spread of the coronavirus disease "will be catastrophic."

Inmates who are at least 70 years old, have serious illnesses or disabilities, or detained for non-violent crimes should be freed "on humanitarian grounds," De Lima said in an open letter to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

"Given the state of our jails and prisons, the infection rate will be catastrophic," she said, noting that prescribed ways to avoid the virus are usually not doable in correctional facilities in the country.

Physical distancing, regular handwashing, wearing of face masks, disinfecting living areas, and consulting doctors are "practically luxuries" that inmates "cannot afford," she said.

"The detainee will not be a flight risk or a danger to the community," the senator said, citing the "Enrile Doctrine" that there must be a "special, humanitarian and compelling circumstances" before a detained person can be freed.

Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, now 96, was released on bail on humanitarian grounds in 2015 despite facing non-bailable charges. 

"If done properly, we would be able to free up additional resources to improve the nutrition and sanitation in the jails and prisons for the remaining persons deprived of liberty," said De Lima, who once oversaw correctional facilities as former justice chief. 

"This will also ease some pressure on the jail and prison health care facilities," she said, noting that Iran and Indonesia have implemented a similar scheme as part of their coronavirus response.

"Other nations, including the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Britain, Poland, Italy, Sri Lanka, and Yemen, among others, are also taking and considering similar measures to decongest their jails," she said.

Under De Lima's suggestion, heinous crime convicts should not be qualified for early release.

De Lima herself has been detained at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017 on drug charges. 

She has denied the allegations and said she was being politically persecuted for being a vocal critic of the Duterte administration. 

The Philippines has recorded a total of 2,311 cases, there are now a total of 50 recoveries and 96 fatalities.