Probe into deaths of Bilibid high-profile inmates due to COVID-19 sought in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   July 22, 2020   •   292

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday said she has filed a resolution seeking an investigation into the deaths of nine inmates in the New Bilibid Prison after allegedly testing positive for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In filing Senate Resolution No. 473, Hontiveros said the deaths of these high-profile inmates must be looked into following questions surrounding their demise.

“It is baffling how COVID-19 was able to wipe out several drug lords with one blow,” she said in a statement.

“For the sake of transparency, they need to be clarified,” she added.

Hontiveros pointed out that previous Senate investigation on the alleged corruption inside BuCor have revealed “schemes in which high-ranking officials of the bureau would dispense favors to rich inmates in exchange for monetary consideration.”

She said these schemes and the immediate disposal of the remains cast a cloud of doubt over the reported deaths of the inmates.

“The lack of reliable information on the deaths of the inmates, the track record of some officials within the BuCor, and the improbability of the fatality rate, creates enough doubt in the mind of a reasonable person on the truthfulness of these deaths,” Hontiveros said,

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) earlier confirmed that a number of inmates, nine of whom were high-profile, in the New Bilibid Prisons have succumbed to COVID-19.

BuCor chief Gerald Bantag, however, said he cannot disclose the names of these individuals pursuant to the Data Privacy Act.

The Department of Justice has already ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to delve into the issue.

Meanwhile, Hontiveros’ resolution also sought to investigate the health and sanitary conditions in penal institutions “so that the abnormally high number of COVID-19 fatalities might be addressed.”

“By conducting this investigation, we may be able to put an end to speculation and improve our response to the pandemic within our penal institutions,” she added.

SC suspends transfer of convicted inmates to BuCor due to COVID-19

Robie de Guzman   •   July 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the courts in the country to temporarily suspend the issuance of commitment order for the transfer of convicted inmates from detention facilities to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

In a circular posted on the Supreme Court’s Twitter page, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said that all convicted persons deprived of liberty (PDL) who should have been transferred to the BuCor should remain in the facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) from July 29 to August 31, 2020.

This is in line with the request of BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag to the Office of the Court Administrator to temporarily suspend the issuance of commitment orders to BuCor to prevent the further contamination of COVID-19 and to minimize the movement of inmates.

Both the BuCor and the BJMP have recorded cases of COVID-19 in their facilities with reported fatalities.

Detained persons awaiting or facing trials are placed under the custody of the BJMP while those convicted are under the BuCor.

DOH reports setting up of quarantine facilities in some detention centers vs spread of COVID-19

Robie de Guzman   •   May 1, 2020

The NBP COVID-19 Quarantine area (Site Harry), was further configured to be ready to accommodate more patients if need be during this period of COVID-19 pandemic. | BuCor

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday said that quarantine centers have been installed in some detention facilities in the country to prevent the spread and manage the cases of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among persons deprived of liberty (PDL).

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they are closely working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in building isolation facilities for probable and suspect coronavirus cases inside detention facilities such as the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

“ICRC has installed a 110-bed capacity quarantine facility in the medium-security New Bilibid Prison. Multi-disciplinary technical support has likewise been supplied to the Correctional Institute for Women as an emergency response to its confirmed cases detected recently,” Duque said in a statement.

The Health chief added that the ICRC is also assisting the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) in setting up temporary isolation centers for COVID-19 positive PDLs who are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.

“A 48-bed quarantine facility in the Quezon City Jail in Payatas is now fully operational with 40 admitted detainees,” the DOH said.

“It is being expanded to 200 beds and will open shortly in collaboration with BJMP,” it added.

The health department also reported that a 40-bed quarantine facility at the New San Fernando District Jail and an 80-bed quarantine facility at the Quezon District Jail in Pagbilao, Lucena City are likewise being prepared.

“Such isolation centers were set-up with separate areas for patients and sleeping quarters for staff, electricity, water, cots, and basic furnishings,” it said.

“The staff were also furnished with medical equipment, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and tablet devices to facilitate contact between patients and their relatives,” it added.

Training on infection prevention and control, and management of the dead based on DOH and WHO guidelines were also provided.

Aside from the ICRC, the Health chief said they are also coordinating with the Department of Justice, and the World Health Organization for the conduct of an initial assessment, investigation and management of cases at the Correctional Institution for Women-Bureau of Corrections and the NBP.

This is to ensure that “infection control measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in penal and correctional facilities.”

Duque said that other closed-setting facilities such as orphanages, and homes for the aged will also be monitored with the help of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“Multi-sectoral efforts are ramped up to support all vulnerable areas to stem this pandemic. In all closed-setting facilities, a single case of an asymptomatic positive COVID-19 case can be a disaster,” he said.

The measure comes after more than 200 detainees and personnel at three city jails in the country were reported to have contracted the viral respiratory disease.

BuCor preps ‘Site Harry’ for COVID-19 response at NBP

Aileen Cerrudo   •   May 1, 2020

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) continues to prepare the New Bilibid Prison’s (NBP) coronavirus disease (COVID-19) quarantine area at Site Harry.

On Thursday (April 30), BuCor received medical supplies and other equipment from the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). The ICRC also renovated the isolation area for the Person’s Deprived of Liberty (PDL) who are exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms.

The ICRC donated personal protective equipment (PPEs), beds and pillows.

The said isolation area was previously used as a work area for making handicrafts. The area can accommodate up to 100 PDLs.

“The families of the PDL in the NBP can be assured that there is now a comfortable facility that can accommodate their PDL loved ones in case of confinement in relation to COVID-19,” BuCor said in a statement. AAC

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