22 prisoners ask Supreme Court for temporary freedom amid COVID-19 crisis

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April) — Twenty-two prisoners have a filed a petition before the Supreme Court to temporarily free them amid the coronavirus disease pandemic.

“The petitioners, who belong to the vulnerable or at-risk groups by reason of their medical and/or physical conditions, are seeking their temporary liberty on humanitarian grounds and invoking this Honorable Court‘s exercise of equity jurisdiction,” read the petition filed on Wednesday. 

The petitioners, represented by their families, pointed out that the government measures against COVID-19 are not enough for vulnerable areas like prison.

“Petitioners are praying for a fair chance at surviving the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in spaces that are not blighted with overcrowding and lack of access to hygiene measures and medical care,” read the petition.

Among the points raised by the prisoners is that the highly-contagious virus will most likely infect those who are elderly, sickly, and pregnant inside jails.

The petition said that prisoners are already prone to disease due to the poor state of jails in the country.

“The congestion rate of prisons in the Philippines is more than 500% of their capacity [...] It is inevitable to have contact with the prison guards and staff who live in communities outside the jail, the kitchen staff who prepare their food and the delivery personnel who deliver huge volumes of items needed by the penitentiary daily.”

Meanwhile, the petition also pointed out that the prisoners must be released from detention in accordance with the international law.

“Petitioners, who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus while in detention, contend that these international calls are also valid as to them under international law including treaties, conventions and UN resolutions relevant to the rights and welfare of persons deprived of liberty.”

Further, an alternative seen by the petitioners is to to release them on bail.

The petition cited that the Rules of Court has allowed bail on humanitarian grounds regardless of the nature of the offense.

The petitioners assured that their release from detention will not cause any harm to the public.

“In fact, their temporary removal from the ranks of persons deprived of liberty will save the State the costs of providing for their daily needs and lessen the immediate risk to the health and safety of BJMP officers and personnel.”