9 BJMP inmates test positive for COVID-19
This photo taken on March 27, 2020 shows prison inmates at the crowded courtyard of the Quezon City jail in Manila. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to protect people held in overcrowded prisons and other enclosed facilities by releasing vulnerable detainees, saying COVID-19 "risks rampaging through such institutions."
AFP/Maria Tan

9 BJMP inmates test positive for COVID-19

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 17, 2020 - 11:36am

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 12:15 p.m.) — Nine inmates of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology tested positive for COVID-19, its spokesperson said Friday.

Major Xavier Solda, bureau spokesperson, confirmed this to Philstar.com in a text message. The inmates were placed in isolation from last week, at the newly established isolation facility at Payatas in Quezon City.

In a press conference streamed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Solda said that there are also nine BJMP personnel who tested positive for the coronavirus disease.

The isolation facility in Quezon City was set up after an inmate died of suspected COVID-19 last March 25. 17 persons deprived of liberty were placed in isolation after contact tracing and were tested for COVID-19. Nine of them tested positive.

The Bureau personnel were working as administrative staff, paralegals and in health department.

“All of our personnel assigned in Quezon City Jail were tested. There are around 40 of them and we had them swabbed,” Solda said pertaining to the test procedure for COVID-19.

He added that 21 other inmates were also tested. 

“Those who show symptoms, definitely they have to be tested to determine the extent of possible infection,” Solda added in Filipino.

The Bureau spokesperson also said that they will conduct “random sampling” of inmates in QC jails to double check the situation of the inmates.

DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya for his part also called on local government units to include city or municipal jails in their localities in mass testing.

Release of PDLs

Calls for release of the elderly, ailing and vulnerable prisoners from several rights groups and Sen. Leila de Lima continue to mount as COVID-19 infections rise.

A group of prisoners on April 8 knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court and asked for their possible release during state of public health emergency, stressing that the Philippines may record a staggering amount of fatalities of the novel coronavirus that may infect the inmates.

“Petitioners are praying for a fair chance at surviving the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in spaces that are not blighted with the overcrowding and lack of access to hygiene measures and medical care,” their plea read.

The group of petitioners is composed of political prisoners and detainees who are elderly sick or pregnant, and are committed to crowded facilities where social distancing is “practically impossible.”

Solda said that while they support decongestion of jails through legal measures, studies need to be done first to ensure that propositions are within laws.

The International Committee of the Red Cross noted that as of March 19, 2020, BJMP’s 467 jails are at 534% congestion rate.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año earlier said that jails under BJMP will be “100 percent safe” from the contagion.

“All detention cells remain COVID- free. This is the safest place now, we will not allow anyone to enter prison and detention cells. All visits are now restricted,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English at a press conference in March.

The Supreme Court is holding an en banc session on Friday where they may discuss the inmates’ plea for temporary release.

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