By Jonathan Hicap
Prisoners will be more protected against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) if they stay in their cells rather than be released, according to the spokesperson of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) in Muntinlupa.
Gabriele Chaclag, head of the BuCor Public Information Office, told Manila Bulletin that the BuCor has the facilities in case there is a COVID-19 outbreak in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) and other penal institutions.
Several groups like Karapatan have called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Supreme Court to release sick and elderly inmates amid the threat of COVID-19. Families of prisoners filed a petition with the SC seeking the release of the inmates to curb the spread of COVID-19.
But Chaclag said releasing the prisoners will put them at more risk of contracting the virus.
“Yung mga elderly at aged, lalo mo pa silang ie-expose sa labas dahil nasa labas ang virus. Safe sila dito sa loob. Yun ang common sense. (The elderly will be more exposed outside because the virus is outside. They are safe here inside. That’s common sense) Because they are naturally quarantined,” Chaclag said.
He said even before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed, the BuCor had already suspended visitation of prisoners and barred other visitors from coming in contact with them. There are also stricter rules in the entry and exit of people and vehicles in the NBP reservation.
To date, there are nine prisoners at NBP and 14 at CIW who are suspect COVID-19 cases but no positive case, Chaclag said.
If there is a positive case, he said, the BuCor has mechanisms in place. There are five buildings previously used for livelihood at NBP’s medium security camp that have been designated as isolation areas in case there will be a COVID-19 outbreak among prisoners.
As of February 2020, the BuCor has 49,584 prisoners under its care including 29,173, or 59 percent, at NBP, and 3,422 prisoners, or 7 percent, at CIW in Mandaluyong.
Of the 29,173 at NBP, a total of 19,923, or 68.3 percent, are at the maximum security camp; 8,046, or 27.6 percent, are at the medium security compound; and 1,076, or 3.7 percent, are at the minimum camp.