May 5, 2020,
H. E. Mr Rodrigo Duterte,
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Urging again the Supreme Court of the Philippines to send political prisoners home
Following the release of 9,731 prisoners between March 17 and April 29, 2020, due to directives aimed at decongesting jails during the COVID-19 pandemic, and your statement that 100 prisoners would be released each week, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) is again urging the Supreme Court of the Philippines to delay no longer its decision on the release of political prisoners.
The Supreme Court has been considering this petition since April 17, when we wrote to you last, and may have delayed to await a move from you.
We are appealing to the leaders of the Philippine judiciary system to make the just, humane and compassionate decision of urgently freeing the elderly, sick and vulnerable political prisoners. There are 609 political prisoners detained in congested prisons and 47 of them are elderly while 63 are with pre-existing medical conditions and suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
Twenty-three of these detainees filed their petition to the Supreme Court last April 8, asserting that they are not flight risks because they are old, frail and sickly. Last March 29, Karapatan also made an urgent appeal for the release of political prisoners, especially those suffering from debilitating illnesses and the elderly.
We in ICHRP support the families, lawyers and human rights advocates in the Philippines working towards sending them home from these high-risk prisons.
ICHRP also notes that these political prisoners are Filipino farmers, union leaders, critics of the government and human rights defenders jailed under trumped-up charges. Most of them are still to undergo trial which according to the Philippine Constitution, and international law makes them innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
The filed petition also includes the creation of a Prisoner Release Committee which is intended to “urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons throughout the country who are similarly vulnerable but cannot be included in this Petition due to the difficult circumstances.”
Releasing prisoners had been endorsed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Michelle Bachelet. Other international groups such as the Prison Policy Initiative called for the release of low-risk detainees while Human Rights Watch warned about “catastrophic public health problems” if the government does not address the worsening situation of the Philippine prison system.
As of March 2020, the recorded congestion of Philippine prison facilities is 534%. Combined with unsanitary facilities, lack of water, nutritious food and medical services, this situation has led to outbreaks of tuberculosis, other infectious diseases and now the current threat of COVID-19.
Finally, ICHRP has urged the Court to heed the call of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Michelle Bachelet: “governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.”
As of this writing, countries that have released prisoners as part of their response to the pandemic include the USA, Canada, Germany, Iran, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Egypt.
Peter Murphy, Chairperson, Global Council,
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
Cc: Mr. Diosdado M. Peralta, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines; Mr. Menardo Guevarra, Secretary of the Department of Justice; Mr. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights; Mr Antonio Guterres, United Nations; UN Special Rapporteur on EJK; DFAT Desk; Senator Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Senator Penny Wong; Senator Richard Di Natale, Andrew Wilkie MHR; Julia Dean.