Over 15k qualified PDLs released to decongest jail facilities

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) today said that over 15,000 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) were released from jail facilities under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) from March 17 to June 22 as part of the government’s decongestion program in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ang paglaya ng libo-libong PDLs ay patunay na hindi sila nakakaligtaan at hindi pinapabayaan. Patunay rin itong gumagana ang justice system sa bansa Kahit pa man may pandemya,” DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año said after leftist organizations claimed that government is not doing enough to decongest the jails.

Of the 15,322 released PDLs, 5,910 are from the National Capital Region; 1,557 are from CALABARZON; 1,487 from Central Visayas; 1,041 from Central Luzon; 897 from the Zamboanga Peninsula; 762 from Northern Mindanao; and the rest are from other regions.

The majority of the released PDLs are elderly, and those who committed light or bailable offenses.

“All of these PDLs were released by authority of the courts with some released in accordance with new guidelines issued by the Supreme Court because of the pandemic,” he said.

Despite budgetary and personnel limitations of the BJMP, Año said that the BJMP established COVID-19 Isolation Centers in the regions with medical staff support from the Department of Health, Local Health Units of concerned local government units (LGUs), and utilizing Telemedicine, a medical consultation program with medical practitioners using techonology.

The six Ligtas COVID Centers with a total of 918-bed capacity are established in strategic areas, particularly in Quezon City, San Fernando City, Cebu City, Mandaue City, Pagbilao in Quezon province, and Zamboanga City.

The Bureau further intensified the triaging process, provision of more focused medical care to patients, the conduct of daily disinfection of jails, targeted and expanded testing, and massive health education campaigns inside prisons.

These are on top of the usual precautionary measures, such as wearing a face mask, thermal scanning, use of foot baths, hand washing, and maintaining good hygiene.

“Kahit pa maraming responsibilidad ang ipinagkakatiwala sa DILG ngayong COVID-19 crisis ay hindi isinasantabi ng Kagawaran at ng BJMP ang PDLs. Tinitiyak namin ang kapakanan at kaligtasan nila,” he said.

The DILG Chief emphasized that the number of PDLs recovering from COVID-19 also continues to increase.

As of today, 549 out of 783 confirmed cases among PDLs, and 90 out of 135 cases among BJMP personnel already recovered.

“Tinututukan po namin ang sitwasyon sa mga BJMP jail sa buong bansa at hindi namin pinapabayaan ang mga COVID-19 positive cases. Sa katunayan, marami na ang gumaling at hindi kami bibitaw hanggang bawat isa sa kanila ay maka-recover na,” said the DILG Chief.

Because physical distancing is a challenge inside jails, he said that the BJMP also expanded the electronic dalaw (e-Dalaw) program about the temporary suspension of visitation in all 1,312 PDLs released thru SC guidelines DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that the release of the 15,322 PDLs was not arbitrary but is by the lawful orders of the courts and through coordination with the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) that started on March 17. Of the 15,322 released PDLs, 1,312 were released because of the new Supreme Court guidelines issued to decongest the jails.

Among such circulars are Administrative Circular (AC) No. 33 –2020 supplemented by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) Circular No. 89 –2020 which allowed the electronic filing of information and transmission of release orders; OCA Circular No. 91 –2020 which reiterated the guidelines on the release of qualified PDLs through self-recognizance and provisional dismissal; and AC No. 37 –2020 which allowed pilot testing of videoconference hearings of urgent matters in criminal cases involving PDLs.

“The DILG welcomes the Supreme Court’s issuance of guidelines on addressing overcrowded jails to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to give liberty to deserving PDLs,” Malaya said.