PDLs are human beings, too

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THE government, through its National Task Force COVID-19 (NTF), has formulated what they claimed as a judiciously planned list of priority sectors for vaccination rollout seen to protect the vulnerable sectors from being infected with the deadly virus from China.

Looking at the priority sectors list seemed fine – but a second glimpse would make one realize that conspicuously missing are people aptly referred to as “persons deprived of liberty” or PDLs, who are living in a place where they could hardly observe minimum public health safety protocols.

The mad scramble to be included on the list of priority population eligible for vaccination saw other sectors manage to be sneak in as priority sector under the A4 cluster, which was split into sub-groups, to wit:

  • A4.1 – commuter transport (land, air, and sea), including logistics
  • A4.2 – frontline government workers in the justice, security, transport, and social protection sectors
  • A4.3 – Public and private wet and dry market vendors; frontline workers in groceries and supermarkets; delivery services
  • A4.4 – Workers in manufacturing for food, beverage, medical, and pharmaceutical products
  • A4.5 – Frontliner workers in food retail, including food service delivery
  • A4.6 – Frontline government workers
  • A4.7 – Frontline workers in financial services
  • A4.8 – Teaching personnel in medical and allied medical courses of higher education institutions, including personnel handling laboratories
  • A4.9 – Frontliner workers in hotels and accommodation
  • A4.10 – Priests, pastors, religious leaders
  • A4.11 – Construction workers in government infrastructure projects
  • A4.12 – Security guards and personnel assigned in establishments, offices, agencies, and organizations
  • A4.13 – Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) not classified above and scheduled for deployment within 2 months

A few days ago, the NTF also approved the inclusion of judges, prosecutors and public attorneys in the priority sectors for the national vaccination rollout, but still has no word on the PDLs, who are most at risk of contracting the virus because of overcrowding in jail facilities.

The government has commenced inoculation of workers in the frontline health services (A1), all senior citizens (A2), and persons with comorbidities (A3).

After are those under A4. Poor families, who suffered most under the pandemic, come fifth under A5 cluster.

After these sectors are inoculated, only then will the Priority Eligible B population be vaccinated. They are:

  • B1- Teachers and social workers
  • B2- Other government workers
  • B3- Other essential workers
  • B4- Socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk other than senior citizens and poor population based on NHTS-PR (National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction)
  • B5- Overseas Filipino workers
  • B6- Remaining workforce

Under Priority Eligible C is the rest of the population and perhaps this is where the inmates belong – the least of the government’s priority.

Huh? Why would they be the least of the government’s priority? These detainees remain innocent until proven guilty and as such should not be persecuted the way they have been treated today.

And to think many of these PDLs are facing fabricated charges filed by dubious cops in their localities.

As early as March, various non-government organizations and human rights groups have been asking the government to include the more than 215,000 prisoners in the COVID-19 mass vaccination program.

Subhuman conditions make prison facilities a reservoir of infectious disease. Ignoring them in the national efforts to contain COVID-19 will result in failure since prisons and the communities surrounding them are linked.

Detainees should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.

The government is very much aware of the living hell behind bars. In fact, no less than the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) hinted at congestion at a miserable level — 534 percent congestion rate as of March 2020.

Numbers don’t lie. Proof of how miserable life is behind bars is a government data that had one inmate die every day even before the onset of the pandemic. The BJMP record shows 300 to 800 BJMP inmates die on a yearly basis – partida, wala pang COVID-19 nung mga panahon na yan, ha?

Many BJMP detainees have already succumbed to COVID-19 but there’s not much news about it, because they’re not as prominent as those billeted at the New Bilibid Prisons.

Jail congestion has long been a problem and may remain as such unless radical steps are made to ensure that prosecutors don’t allow fabricated charges to be filed in court.

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