Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on improving the plight of persons deprived of liberty through the Interim National Preventive Mechanism

Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on improving the plight of persons deprived of liberty through the Interim National Preventive Mechanism

Even before the pandemic, prison populations are among those most vulnerable given the conditions of detention—typically with poor hygiene, dramatic overcrowding, and poor healthcare infrastructure within these facilities.

Such situation, if not addressed, may result to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, which goes against the country’s commitment to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UN CAT) and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT).

Having ratified the OPCAT in 2012, the government is mandated to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) through legislation, but has yet to do so.

Even as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) continues, with confirmed cases having emerged in places of detention, the government remains duty-bound to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, and in this connection, any and all measures aimed containing or addressing the effects of the pandemic with places of detention need to be devised and implemented with full recognition and respect of the aforementioned rights, including those of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs). In this context an NPM could help ensure that the government fulfils its obligations under the OPCAT.

In 2016, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) sought to establish an interim NPM (INPM) to usher the government’s compliance to the said convention and its optional protocol. Since then, the INPM has continued to advocate for passage of law establishing the country’s NPM, and has also conducted preventive monitoring visits to select pilot places of deprivation of liberty.

The INPM continues to extend this mandate as the country confronts the effects of Covid-19.

Earlier this month, May 2020, the INPM, through CHR reached out to various detention and correctional facilities around the country to help mitigate the risks posed by the virus to places of detention, including the administration, support staff, and PDLs.

Letters were sent to six Bureau of Jail Management and Penology wardens—in Bohol District Jails (2); Manila City Jails (3); and Quezon City Jail (1); two Philippine National Police Station Commanders—Kamuning and Novaliches Stations; Bahay Pag-asa in Caloocan City; and San Ramon Prison Farm in Zamboanga City.

The INMP writes, that while there are recommendations from the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the International Committee of the Red Cross requiring interagency actions, there are measures that wardens and officers in charge of places of detention may already undertake, such as implementing physical distancing among PDLs and other personnel; alternative visitation arrangements, including internet or telephone communications; information drives on ways to combat the spread of the contagion; as well as attending to psychosocial concerns of all persons in jails, prisons, and other places of detention—PDLs, staff, officers, and wardens alike.

The Supreme Court has also issued guidelines to expedite the release of qualified detainees, which should be observed to help reduce detainee population aligned with UN STP recommendations.

This initiative then seeks to establish an open line of communication with the abovementioned detention facilities with information on practices that can help PDLs, including women and youth, in these difficult times.

The INMP shall do its function in a non-adversarial and collaborative approach that builds on coordination and dialogue with partners from from the government and the civil society. Further, it shall continue to practice and advocate for the Do No Harm principle in its efforts.