Political prisoners fearing COVID-19 seek temporary freedom

April 08, 2020

THE Supreme Court has been asked to order the temporary release of 23 elderly, sick, or pregnant political prisoners scattered in overcrowded prisons whose present medical and physical conditions make them vulnerable to the dreaded novel coronavirus.

In a petition, the prisoners urged the high court to order their release on humanitarian grounds through bail or recognizance.

At the same time, they prodded the SC to likewise order the release of similarly-situated prisoners who were not included or named in the petition.

"To reiterate, petitioners herein are elderly and sickly, and with medical conditions that require continuous monitoring and treatment," their petition read in part.

"While they are charged with common crimes, the arrest, detention and charges against the petitioners are due to their political beliefs. They are not hardened criminals. They will not evade trial nor flee from the charges," it continued.

The petition claimed that most of the signatories have diabetes, hypertension, and other ailments. Also, one of them has leprosy, while another is pregnant.

They pointed out that their continued detention is "tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, which the 1987 Constitution explicitly prohibits." 

"Prison authorities, even from developed countries, cannot claim that they have devised a system or acquired appropriate equipment capable of stopping the spread of the coronavirus in prisons," the petition said.

"It would be unbelievable for any prison official in any country, especially poor countries like the Philippines, to claim that their prison system is capable of handling the virus once it sets inside prison walls," it added.