Tell it to SunStar: ‘Napakong pangako?’: Kapatid seeks gov’t allotment of Covid vaccines for inmates

·2 min read

As the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) over the 403 percent current congestion rate of Philippine jails, we, Kapatid, the support group of families and friends of political prisoners, is calling on the National Government to immediately allocate Covid-19 vaccines for persons deprived of liberty (PDL) who are at higher risk from the highly contagious disease in packed jails.

It is correct for state auditors to flag the BJMP for cramming 115,336 PDLs in jails fit for only 34,893. When by its own estimate, the BJMP says the space allotted for each PDL is actually being shared by five persons, the BJMP and the national government bear responsibility for protecting every PDL, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, with Covid-19 immunization.

What happened to Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra’s statement that his office will seek the inclusion of PDLs from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the BJMP in the government’s priority list for vaccination?

On April 13, 2021, Guevarra said he will seek the prioritization of PDLs in immunization efforts because of “greater Covid-19 risks” brought by “overcrowding.”

However, the Department of Justice said that in BuCor facilities, only 2,684 of the 48,000 prisoners have so far received Covid-19 vaccines. In the BJMP, only 10,939 of the 119,692 prisoners have been immunized.

Since the first rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in the Philippines in March 2021, only eight of the 713 political prisoners have so far received shots, due mainly to the initiative of the local government unit (LGU). They are prisoners from the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong where the Covid-19 vaccines administered came from the LGU.

Last Aug. 30, 2021, BJMP spokesperson Xavier Solda asked LGUs to include PDLs in their priority list for immunization.

The BJMP should stop passing the buck to local government units for the vaccination of detainees under their jurisdiction when there are billions of pesos from national government resources that the COA said were either ‘unliquidated’ or ‘unutilized.’

To expedite the vaccination of prisoners, especially the elderly, the sick, and all political prisoners, government should elevate PDLs from the lowly B9 category and directly allocate financial resources for their immunization instead of engaging in a policy spree of arrests, including politically motivated arrests, which only worsen jail congestion.

Five political prisoners have already died since the start of the pandemic in the very regions which the COA identified as having the highest jail congestion rates: Calabarzon, 619%, followed by Central Luzon, 609%, and Metro Manila, 595 percent.

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