Attorneys

Judges, prosecutors, public attorneys priority for vaccination, but inmates out

MANILA— In the mad scramble to be included on the list of priority population eligible for vaccination, judges, prosecutors and public attorneys have separately sought approvals from the National Task Force COVID-19, but one group most at risk of contracting the virus is out of the list. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday “persons deprived of liberty” or inmates are not yet part of the priority list for vaccination.

“As of now, hindi pa kasama sa priority list ang PDLs (PDLs are not yet included in the priority list). The DOJ will argue on the basis of greater COVID risk due to overcrowding,” he said.

In contrast, “judges, prosecutors, public attorneys, and similar individuals directly involved in the dispensation of justice have been included by the IATF in priority A4 of the national vaccination program,” he added.

A4 refers to frontline personnel in essential sectors including uniformed personnel who are fourth in line to receive the vaccine next to workers in the frontline health services (A1), all senior citizens (A2), and persons with comorbidities (A3). 

The indigent population comes fifth (A5).

The succeeding classifications are part of Priority Eligible B population:

  • 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

The rest are classified as Priority Eligible C.

JUDGES AND JUDICIARY PERSONNEL

The Supreme Court initiated the inclusion of judges and judiciary personnel in the priority group for vaccination.

In a March 31 letter, then Acting Chief Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe asked NTF’s chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. to consider justices, judges and court personnel as frontline government workers in the justice sector as their “functions are essential at all times, especially during the pandemic.”

“Indeed, through its adjudicatory functions, the Judiciary is an essential institution in the justice sector that works hand-in-hand with the executive branch of government to effectively perform its task for maintaining peace and order and safeguarding public welfare in accordance with the rule of law,” she said.

“Truly, during this unsettling pandemic, upholding the rule of law assumes greater significance. Thus, access to judicial relief should be constant,” she added.

In a virtual town hall with Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and some 2,000 judges and court personnel on Monday, Bernabe encouraged judiciary employees to register with their local government units so that they could immediately be vaccinated by May.

PROSECUTORS ALSO ON PRIORITY LIST

Meanwhile, the inclusion of prosecutors on the vaccine priority list was initiated through a letter from regional prosecutors to the IATF, which Guevarra said the DOJ “vigorously supported.”

This will cover the National Prosecution Service nationwide. 

Guevarra said prosecutors will get vaccinated once the turn for the A4 population comes, but prosecutors who are senior citizens (A2) or who have comorbidities (A3) may get vaccinated now.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines national president Domingo Egon Cayosa confirmed a letter from NTF COVID-19 to the National Vaccine Operations Center recommending that public prosecutors, public attorneys, legal aid lawyers of IBP and trial or litigation practitioners to be part of the A4 group.

The IBP had also written the National Task Force and the health department on March 30 seeking the inclusion all lawyers in the same priority group, citing the need for the justice sector to remain operational.

“Courts and other tribunals as well as necessary physical contact between lawyers and their clients have been proven spreaders of the COVID-19 virus,” it said. 

“Quite a number of judges, prosecutors and practicing lawyers have succumbed to the COVID 19 virus, despite repeated site or area lockdowns and travel restrictions. The legal frontliners are particularly at risk and should be similarly protected,” it said.

WHAT ABOUT INMATES?

As early as March, however, KAPATID, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, already urged 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,” the group said in a March 2 letter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

In December 2019, the Bureau of Corrections had a 302% congestion rate while the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology fared worse with a 534% congestion rate as of March 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, the NBP already reported that 1 inmate died every day, while 300 to 800 BJMP inmates died every year.

From January to July 19, 2020, 476 convicts died in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections, of which 21 was due to COVID-19.

Among those who died of the coronavirus were high-profile inmates including Jaybee Sebastian, who testified against detained Sen. Leila de Lima; car theft syndicate leader Raymond Dominguez; and rape-slay convict former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez.

A group of prisoners in April last year asked the Supreme Court for their temporary release only to be told a few months later that their case needs to be referred to trial courts. 

Among the petitioners before the Supreme Court was a young mother who lost her newborn baby who was separated from her shortly after birth.

“Prisoners 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,” KAPATID said.

More than a million Filipinos have received their first dose of vaccines as of Monday, according to Malacañang, equivalent to a little less than 1% of the Philippines’ 108 million population.

Only a little over 130,000 have so far received their second dose.

FROM THE ARCHIVES:

Department of Justice, Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Bureau of Corrections, New Bilibid Prison, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, KAPATID, vaccines, Supreme Court, Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, A4

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