The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes with deep concern that two detainees, Leo Paro and Melvic Lupe, have died, reportedly due to tuberculosis while being held at the Karangalan Police Station in Cainta, Rizal. Paro and Lupe succumbed in October 2009 and December 2008 respectively. Neither of them received treatment.
I am aware that when Paro, of Parang, Marikina City; and Lupe, of Parola, Cainta, Rizal were first taken into this police station, both of them were physically fit and had no history of life threatening diseases. However, after over a period of two years in jail, they contracted tuberculosis. Their health condition was also aggravated by poor prison conditions and lack of food.
Paro and Lupe were among the 20 factory workers, aged 18 to 39, whom the police arrested on questionable charges. They were workers who were detained, not for reasons of violating the penal laws, but because they demanded from their employer during a lawful strike that which they were due – the minimum salary and employment benefits.
Tuberculosis is no longer a life threatening disease. It has been a treatable disease for over fifty years now and, in fact, your office is known to have been providing treatment for this type of illness through the Barangay Health Centers (BHC) in some localities. Although those who benefit from the treatment are not detainees or prisoners I can find no reason why prisoners suffering from tuberculosis should not be afforded the same treatment. In fact, they should have been given higher priority for this type of treatment for the following reasons:
They have no access to medicines and health centres: It is not easy for prisoners and detainees to leave their detention centres to seek medical attention or treatment. Firstly, unless they are able to obtain court orders to seek treatment from hospitals, health centre and clinics outside the prisons, they are not allowed out. Secondly, even if they are able obtain a court order to leave the prison they do not have money to pay for their medical expenses.
The AHRC is aware that the well-being of every prisoner and detainee depends on who has jurisdiction over the detention centres where they are held. However, when these authorities fail to perform the duties expected from them, assistance from the other government agencies, like the DSWD, who have already been providing this type of treatment and services to tuberculosis patients, should have also been offered.
Congestion and poor jail conditions put other detainees at risk: Tuberculosis is treatable even in the advanced stage. However, if this type of treatment is not provided promptly the probability of them dying, like Paro and Lupe, is inevitable. Furthermore, this type of illness is easily communicable and can spread to others if the sanitation and hygiene inside the prison is poor. The death of Lupe and subsequently that of Paro suggests the jail conditions are, indeed poor.
The AHRC urges you to ensure that the 18 other detainees, who remain in jail, are immediately afforded the medical attention they require. I am deeply concerned that some of them might have also contracted tuberculosis and other illness and diseases as a result of their conditions that remained to be addressed by the prison authorities. We urge your office to deploy social and health workers to their detention centre so as to be able to evaluate their medical needs.
The DSWD should also arrange for the provision of adequate medicines or treatment schedules for all detainees. The DSWD’s programme on the treatment of tuberculosis patients would have more meaning if those who are in immediate need are also afforded this type of service.
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
1. Ms. Leila De Lima, Commissioner, Commission on Human Rights, Commonwealth, Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES