In this photo taken on March 27, 2020, prison inmates lie to sleep at the crowded courtyard of the Quezon City jail in Manila
AFP/Manila Tan
UN agencies call for closure of drug detention centers amid COVID-19 pandemic
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - June 1, 2020 - 1:06pm

MANILA, Philippines — Several United Nations (UN) entities on Monday urged member states in Asia and the Pacific to "permanently close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers” in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"Among the groups particularly at risk of contracting the virus are people in compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers. They are often comprised of people who are suspected of using drugs or being dependent on drugs, people who have engaged in sex work, or children who have been victims of sexual exploitation,” UN agencies said in a joint statement

Also highlighted in the statement were other vulnerabilities faced by detainees due to “sub-standard living conditions” which include human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis. 

In addition to overcrowding and other hurdles to maintaining physical distancing in prisons, the UN said “forced labor, lack of adequate nutrition, physical and sexual violence, and denial or comparatively lower access to and quality of healthcare services” were other factors contributing to the higher vulnerability of detainees. 

Overcrowding in jails 

Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) spokesman Xavier Solda earlier in May said that 136, 881 prisoners are in the agency's custody. 

Chief Inspector Solda added, however, that BJMP's 476 custodial facilities can only accommodate up to 30,000 inmates. 

These figures reveal an overcrowding by over 100,000 detainees. 

Figures released by the BJMP also reveal that 70.58% of inmates in its facilities, 96,620 detainees, are facing drug charges. 

This percentage is in large part due to the crackdown on illegal drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he took office in 2016. 

The BJMP recently reported 517 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 10 of its facilities. The agency also reported 703 suspected and 86 probable cases in 10 of its facilities.

At least 161 convicts from the New Bilibid Prison and Correctional Institution for Women also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Bureau of Corrections. 

22,000 detainees released since lockdown 

Court Administrator Midas Marquez last week said that the Philippine judiciary has released 22,000 detainees through videoconferencing since the novel coronavirus-induced lockdown was enforced. 

The inmates were released “either through bail or recognizance, or after serving the minimum imposable penalty for the crime they were charged,” SC said.

The tribunal has issued several guidelines to help overcrowded decongest prisons and detention facilities in the country where social distancing is impossible.

Marquez said that the release of these detainees “eliminated the risk of further spread of COVID-19 infection to the inmates inside the jail facilities.”

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