The Philippines ranks as one of the top countries with the most overcrowded prisons in the world.
Jails in the Asian country are filled about five times the capacity, according to tracking by the London-based World Prison Brief database.
As of November 2019, the country’s 933 prisons held 215,000 detainees.
These institutions were built to keep only 40,610.
Prisoners include not only people convicted of crimes or awaiting trial.
Human rights advocates say jails also hold hundreds of political dissenters in the Philippines.
They are called political prisoners.
According to the Canada chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), a total of 619 political prisoners languish in jails.
“They include health workers, labour organizers, farmers, students, and other people who are involved in their respective communities,” Beth Dollaga of ICHRP-Canada told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
On Wednesday (August 26), the organization will launch a Canada campaign for the release of political prisoners in the Philippines.
Dollaga explained that the campaign includes pairing political prisoners with individuals and organizations in Canada.
On March 25 this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on governments around the world to reduce prison populations as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Michelle Bachelet made particular mention of older detainees, those who are sick, and low-risk offenders.
Bachelet also cited people “detained without sufficient legal basis”, including political prisoners.
On April 6, 2020, the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture urged the Philippine government to send political prisoners home.
“Philippines authorities must immediately and unconditionally release political and at-risk prisoners, if the loss of thousands of lives and a public health crisis is to be avoided,” the organization declared in a statement.
On May 5, 2020, the world council of ICHRP wrote President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
Council chair Peter Murphy noted in the letter that a petition was filed with the Supreme Court to “make the just, humane and compassionate decision of urgently freeing the elderly, sick and vulnerable political prisoners”.
According to Murphy, more than 100 political prisoners are either elderly or suffering from pre-existing medical conditions.
Dollaga said that donors can contribute to the legal defence fund for political prisoners in the Philippines through the United Church of Canada Foundation.
ICHRP-Canada also accepts donations for its campaign at 2852 Grandeur Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K2B 6Y9.