BuCor says 19 Bilibid inmates have died of COVID-19
This photo taken May 25 shows elderly inmates of the New Bilibid Prison who will undergo rapid test for COVID-19.
Bureau of Corrections/Facebook page released
BuCor says 19 Bilibid inmates have died of COVID-19
(Philstar.com) - July 20, 2020 - 11:23am

MANILA, Philippines — A Bureau of Corrections official on Monday confirmed that 19 New Bilibid Prison inmates infected with novel coronavirus have died.

BuCor spokesperson Colonel Gabriel Chaclag told dzBB Super Radyo that the penitentiary has recorded a total of 343 COVID-19 cases as of July 20.

“Out of the 343, 311 are recovered patients. And the number of deaths in total is 19,” Chaclag said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He further explained that inmates with mild cases are staying in a designated isolation area at Site Harry, the prison's COVID-19 facility. He added that there are currently 300 beds available in the facility.

Chaclag said patients are brough to partner hospitals once they are in need of critical care.

The Commission on Human Rights in June slammed the inhuman conditions in overcrowded jails and detention centers in the country, highlighting that several of these facilities hold a number of prisoners over five times their intended capacity.

"Overcrowded jail cells and detention facilities [are] akin to cruel, degrading, inhuman treatment or punishment. [They increase] the likelihood of transmission of [COVID-19] which places the lives of the old and immunocompromised inmates in peril," the commission's spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement.

Data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) from October 2019 said that the bureau posted a 450% congestion rate, which, they said, meant that six prisoners occupied the space of four square meters, which was only meant for one detainee.

READ: Conditions in several Philippine jails, detention facilities 'cruel, inhuman' — CHR

Amid mounting complaints from rights groups and the families of inmates following reports of coronavirus-induced deaths among PDLs, the BuCor on Sunday said it was not at liberty to disclose their identities due to data privacy complications.

READ: BuCor: Data privacy law bars disclosure on PDLs who died of COVID-19 | Families of political prisoners ask: 'What’s really happening inside jails?'

"Indeed there are PDLs who died due to COVID-19. However, as much as we want to inform the public with respect to the names of pdl who died due to COVID-19, the Data Privacy Act prohibits us from doing so," BuCor director Gerald Bantag told reporters in a text message.

"Rest assured that the Bureau of Corrections is doing its best to address this pandemic. In fact, we have a high rate of recovery and we are glad to report to the public that all our interventions appear to be doing well and effective. We have been doing quick identification, isolation, and treatment programs which have greatly mitigated the risks," Bantag said.

In early July, the Office of the Court Administrator disclosed that 43,171 PDLs have been released by trial courts from March 17, when the enhanced community quarantine was implemented, to July 3.

Inmates' families have long awaited the decision on a petition seeking the release of elderly and sickly prisoners amid the pandemic. — Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from Franco Luna 

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