Release of low-risk, vulnerable detainees sought

THE Supreme Court (SC) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) should work for the release of low-risk and vulnerable detainees and prisoners after at least nine detainees at the Quezon City jail tested positive for the deadly coronavirus disease-19 (COVID)-19, a Mindanao congressman has urged.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who is vice chairman of the House committee on justice, said he is supporting the recommendation of his committee chairman, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso lll, for the release of low-risk detainees to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails.

Veloso made the recommendation to the House Defeat Covid-19 Committee chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“We all know that our jails are overcrowded. A small space good for one detainee is occupied by four or more prisoners. There is no social distancing to speak of in our detention facilities. A single infected detainee will surely spread the virus to others. It was a disaster waiting to happen, and it already happened in Quezon City,” said Rodriguez, the chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments. Rodriguez said what happened at the Quezon City jail should immediately prompt the Supreme Court and DOJ to consider freeing detainees it deems as low-risk and vulnerable to getting infected like those above 60 years of age.

“Based on data, senior citizens and those with underlying medical conditions are the most vulnerable,” he said. Rodriguez, who is a former law dean, added that the high court and DOJ could prescribe conditions under which detainees could be released and could be easily located and summoned to face their cases after the enhanced community quarantine is lifted.

He pointed out that the legal basis for the release is the constitutional provision that an offender is presumed innocent until proven guilty for those not yet finally convicted and for humanitarian reasons for those serving sentences after final judgment.

On Friday, the SC gave the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) a non-extendible period of five days to answer the petition of a group composed of volunteer lawyers asking for the release of low-risk prisoners.

“We would have wanted a speedier and accelerated process especially so that the contagion is starting already in some jails,” the lawyers said, referring to the outbreak at the Quezon City detention center.