Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto lambasted the poor conditions of Philippine jails, describing them as “pandemic timebombs.”
“Our congested jails…are petri dishes for the coronavirus. Prisons exist so offenders can pay for their crimes with their liberty, but not with their lives,” Recto said.
According to the data of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the congestion rate in its jails is 450% in October 2019. It said six inmates share a four square meter space, which was supposed to be for one prisoner only.
BuCor, meanwhile, logged a 316% congestion rate.
“Imagine this: the average prisoner cell space in the Philippines is 0.87 square meter, not even half a folding bed,” Recto noted in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Commission on Human Rights in June also slammed the condition of detention facilities in the Philippines, saying they are “cruel, degrading, inhuman treatment or punishment.”
“The aim of restorative justice is to change them, and not to cause their cremation. Our jails are full of people charged with petty crimes, like small-scale estafa or possession of a stick of marijuana. Although there is no verdict yet, they, however, are in real danger of being sentenced to death by COVID,” Recto said.
The senator appealed to release “the old, the senile, and the sick” who already reached their minimum jail time if convicted.
Recto cited a 2014 Supreme Court circular that “spells out the guidelines on the provisional release of inmates whose cases are not moving in courts,” calling for an “expansion of this order, to cover other qualified detainees, on humanitarian grounds, balanced with public safety.”
Supreme Court data showed the Philippine government had released over 14,000 inmates from jail as of May 12.
According to SC Public Information Office (PIO), 4,683 persons deprived of liberty (PDL) were released from April 40 to May 8. This is after Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta ordered administrative circulars on reduced bails and pilot testing of criminal case hearings through videoconferencing.
Recto was among senators who called for an investigation on the alleged deaths of high-profile inmates due to COVID-19 last week.