As Duterte orders arrest of people without masks, government scrambles to find space for detainees

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
As Duterte orders arrest of people without masks, government scrambles to find space for detainees
This May 5, 2020 photo shows inmates at Biñan City Police Station in Laguna.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Newly-arrested persons will now be brought to police station holding cells in a bid to stop COVID-19 from spreading in Bureau of Jail and Management Penology-managed jails.

This was after the Supreme Court, in an order on Tuesday, directed all court trial judges to order the detention of newly arrested Persons Deprived of Liberty until August 31 to local Philippine National Police units, “unless the local BJMP jail units are already able to admit newly arrested PDLs during this period.”

On the same day, police received fresh orders from President Rodrigo Duterte not to hesitate in arresting those without masks in public places.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez issued the directive, as response to the request of Interior Secretary Eduardo Año “that the issuance of commitment orders (to the facilities of BJMP be temporarily suspected... to prevent the further contamination (of COVID-19) among PDLs in all jail units nationwide.”

BJMP operates jails and holds jurisdiction over people awaiting or undergoing investigation or trial, those waiting to be transferred to Bureau of Corrections-run penitentiaries, and over "violent mentally ill person who endangers themselves."

PNP cells nearly full

But police are “barely” managing their detainees as it is.

From the period of March 17 to July 19, police data showed that there are still 3,059 quarantine violators still detained.

Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac told reporters: “Our detention cells can still accommodate but with barely enough capacity.”

The number of PDLs may soon rise, with Duterte’s latest order to arrest persons not wearing masks, saying that, at a time of pandemic, this “can be a serious crime.”

Año told the president that he will ask the police “to be more strict [sic].”

Poor conditions and overcrowding have long plagued Philippine jail and prisons, long before the coronavirus pandemic. But the outbreak of the highly-transmissible disease in densely populated areas with lack of proper hygiene facilities — such as detention cells and prisons — pushed the Department of Justice as well Supreme Court to craft guidelines to decongest our jails and prisons.

No COVID-19 cases reported in PNP detention cells

COVID-19 has penetrated BJMP detention facilities, as early as April at Quezon City Jail, and the number of cases has increased over time.

Latest data available from BJMP showed that as of June 11, 745 of their detainees contracted the deadly coronavirus.

Philstar.com sought the bureau for its latest number of COVID-19 infections but has yet to receive a reply.

In police detention facilities, Banac said they have so far not monitored any COVID-19 cases.

The PNP spokesperson also explained that part of the measures they enforce is conducting rapid tests among PDLs showing COVID-19 symptoms. Medical organizations, including the World Health Organization, have cautioned against using repid antibody tests for diagnosis because of a chance of false results.

“Yes, that’s part of our strict biosafety measures currently in effect in all our police stations and detention facilities, trace-isolate-treat, in case any detainee would show symptoms of virus infections,” Banac said.

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