A HUMAN rights group said on Thursday that the government should immediately allot coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to prisoners after state auditors flagged the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) for overcrowding in jails nationwide.    

Kapatid, a group advocating for the protection of political prisoners, said in a statement that the national government bears responsibility in protecting the health of every person deprived of liberty, especially those who are elderly and immunocompromised.   

The Commission on Audit (CoA), in its 2020 report, found that the BJMP exceeded the ideal jail capacity by 403%, reporting a total of 115,336 inmates, more than triple the ideal population of 34,893.   

“Congestion in jails resulted in health and sanitation problems as well as increased gang affiliation of inmates,” state auditors said.   

Kapatid Spokesperson Fides M. Lim also questioned Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra’s statement on April 13 that he would seek to include detainees in the government’s priority list for vaccination.   

“Five political prisoners have already died since the start of the pandemic in the very regions which the CoA identified as having the highest jail congestion rates (such as) Calabarzon, Central Luzon, and Metro Manila” she said.  

Ms. Lim also said that only eight out of 713 political prisoners have received their COVID-19 jab, which came from the vaccination program of local governments.   

“The BJMP should stop passing the buck to local government units for the vaccination of detainees under their jurisdiction when there are billions of pesos from national government resources that the CoA said were either unliquidated or unutilized,” she said. — Russell Louis C. Ku