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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Treating detainees humanely in the pandemic

/ 04:07 AM October 25, 2021

GENERAL SANTOS CITY — While driving along the main street in Barangay Bula here after my usual weekly grocery run over the weekend, I could not help but notice something dismal inside Police Precinct 6: 30 individuals were crammed in the tiny and dingy detention area.

In a report for Rappler last Saturday, General Santos City-based journalist Rommel Rebollido wrote that the precinct’s temporary detention cell is designed for 15 people. But even with only 15 people in it, maintaining physical distance in this time of a pandemic is quite the huge challenge. With 30 people jampacked inside the small detention cell, it is a ticking time bomb for COVID-19 if the city’s Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), local police, and the local government unit will not join hands to address this serious problem. When people stand cheek by jowl, the spread of diseases will be faster, and probably deadlier, especially in the case of COVID-19 transmission.

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A close family friend tells me the number of detainees at any time in this police station can go as high as 48. The despicable situation inside the crammed cell, complete with the stench emanating from their common (dis)comfort room, does not deserve the term “living condition.” The detainees are just there, breathing, until they don’t, or until they are transferred to a much bigger prison facility. We can’t even say anything pleasant on what they are being fed on a daily basis.

When asked about this, Lt. Clarizel Perez, spokesperson of the General Santos City Police Office (CPO), disclosed that almost all police stations in the city are really crammed. This is largely because the detainees have not been tested yet for COVID-19, and the city jail, managed by the BJMP, has stopped accepting those who have not been tested for the virus. Last May, 52 inmates of the city jail in Barangay Apopong tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. They do not want a recurrence of this unfortunate incident.

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An official of the City Health Office (CHO) revealed that prisoners at any of the police station jails are not among the “priority” groups for COVID-19 vaccination. In an interview over a local radio station here, assistant city health officer Dr. Lalaine Calonzo said her office may not be able to provide free tests since it depends on the supply of antigen kits the CHO has. She added that the CPO should allot funds for the purchase of antigen tests in its budget next year. She noted that the city police has its own health services division staffed by doctors and nurses. Responding to Calonzo’s statement, Perez said the CPO’s doctors and nurses only serve police officers and their families, not the detainees.

The caption of a CPO group photo reads: “Commitment to genuine transformation for organizational stability, integrity … Police reforms for social transformation: from law enforcement technicians to social actors … from peacekeepers to peacebuilders.”

These words depict a nebulous vision of an agency wracked with so many anomalies, irregularities, and scandals involving individual police officers and personnel. Definitely, these are just empty rhetoric to cosmeticize the overall tarnished image of the Philippine National Police.

Prisons are not hotels but contained areas for punitive action and detention for those who have violated the law. (Although former presidents indicted for plunder like Estrada and Arroyo never had the same discomfort ordinary detainees such as those in Precinct 6 are experiencing now.) But prisoners are still human beings, like the rest of us. Being treated humanely could make the detainees realize the gravity of what they have done, and may even jumpstart their own reformation.

Detainees should also be a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination as a humane way of treating them on equal footing with other vulnerable sectors.

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TAGS: COVID-10 pandemic, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, treatment of prisoners
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