Philippines frees nearly 10,000 inmates due to COVID-19 fears

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(Photo: China Plus)

MANILA, May 2 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines has released a total of 9,731 inmates in an apparent move to decongest jails as the country grapples with an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, Associate Supreme Court Justice Mario Victor Leonen said on Saturday.

Leonen said the move followed a directive to lower courts to free those prisoners awaiting trial who can not afford bail.

"The chief justice reports that from March 15 to April 29, 9,731 persons under detention have already been released," Leonen told an online media forum.

He added "We have not yet acted on the petition that has been filed with the Supreme Court. But despite that, we have adjusted some of our procedures to release some people in order to prevent or ease the congestion of our jails."

These released include prisoners in Metro Manila and other parts of the main island of Luzon, the Visayas region in the central Philippines and Mindanao region in the southern Philippines.

The Supreme Court earlier slashed bail for indigent detainees for offenses with a penalty of six months and one day to 20 years in a bid to de-congest jails and stop transmission of the virus.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said that the Department of Justice is "expediting" the processing of parole and probation for convicts to decongest prisons after hundreds of prisoners tested positive for the COVID-19.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has built quarantine facilities to serve inmates in crowded Metro Manila jails.

With the continued spread of the COVID-19 in the Philippines, the ICRC expressed its deep concern for the health of detainees and detention staff, given the current levels of congestion in detention facilities in the Philippines.

The Philippines has reported nearly 9,000 COVID-19 infections, including 603 deaths.