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Freedom for old inmates sought

Senate Minority Leader Ralph G. Recto yesterday asked President Duterte to grant parole or pardon to “old, infirm, or gravely- or terminally-ill prisoners,’’ especially those who are not guilty of heinous crimes.

“If Duterte is planning to release so-called political prisoners as part of the trust-building steps to cinch a peace deal with communists, then he must set in motion a process that will grant liberty to prisoners sick of cancer the aged, the infirm, those who can be freed on humanitarian grounds,’’ Recto said.

The Senate leader made this proposal as Philippine jails are packed four times their capacity with five prisoners crammed into one square meter of jail space.

Recto prodded the Duterte government to initiate reforms in the country’s penal system that, with 135,000 inmates, are almost at four times their capacity.

Recto said it is no longer accurate to call our prisons “parang sardinas sa sikip.” The correct term, he said, is “daig pa ang siniksik na longganisa.”

Duterte’s predecessor, President Aquino, exercised his power to grant executive clemency only 67 times during his six years in office, according to an official report. (Mario B. Casayuran)

“It is one record,” Recto said. “President Digong (Duterte) can easily top. And he must use this power to forgive lonely, old, sick, and infirm inmates who have paid their debt to society.”

In a resolution filed this week, Recto urged the Senate to probe “the worsening conditions” in the country’s prisons which will cost taxpayers P10.1 billion to maintain this year.

Another compelling reason why prisons must be reformed is their expected intake of thousands of new inmates, Recto said. With the administration’s war on crime and illegal drugs netting thousands, many of whom may be jail-bound, “there’s a need to find space for them because our standing-room-only prisons are filled to the rafters,” Recto said. (Mario B. Casayuran)