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With capacity for 40,000 inmates, Philippine prisons house more than 215,000 inmates – 75. percent of them in pretrial detention – overcrowding that worsened with Duterte’s drug war.
The Philippines, the country with the most saturated prisons in the world, plans to release about 100 prisoners per week thanks to new regulations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, after having already allowed the release of almost 10,000 inmates.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced these measures facilitating parole and bail, to ease the pressure on the prisons in his weekly report, which he sent to Congress as a response to the pandemic, through “special powers” granted by the Lower House.
The Philippines has the most congested prison system in the world, with a total number of prisoners exceeding the capacity of prisons by 500 percent. Organizations inside and outside the country have repeatedly asked the government since the start of the pandemic to release prisoners convicted of minor crimes, as well as the elderly and sick.
The Department of Justice has approved new guidelines for the release of prisoners for humanitarian reasons that will take effect from May 15, such as reducing the minimum age to apply for clemency from 70 to 65, eliminating some requirements for probation and reducing the price of bonds.
The Supreme Court announced on Friday that between March 17 and April 29, 9,731 prisoners were released, who had been sentenced to less than six months in prison, or who had not been able to afford bail, along with some elderly and sick inmates.
COVID-19 has already entered Philippine penitentiary centers with the confirmation of some 500 cases and five deaths in all the country’s prisons. The worst outbreak is in the city of Cebu, where its two prisons total 348 infected and one death.
However, human rights organizations suspect that the government is hiding the impact of the pandemic inside the prisons, since, according to interviews with inmates, at least eight prisoners with symptoms of COVID-19 have died in the last month, which has not been officially reported.
Relatives of the 609 political prisoners in the country sent a letter a month ago to the Supreme Court requesting amnesty for these prisoners – of whom 47 are over 65 and 63 are sick – a request that has not yet been met.