By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor asked the government on Sunday (May 31) to aggressively conduct confirmatory testing on all inmates and correction officers who have manifested early COVID-19 symptoms, fearing there will be a “flare-up” of coronavirus cases in prisons.
The chairman of the House committee on public accounts called on the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take “highly aggressive actions” to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s highly-congested detention facilities, as three persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and three officers have died of the disease.
“Nobody should be left behind in terms of prompt access to free testing as well as patient care, support, and treatment just because they happen to be in prison,” Defensor, vice-chairperson of the House committee on health, said in a statement, after the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) recorded 195 confirmed COVID-19 cases at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City and the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City.
“We’re afraid we might have a much higher COVID-19 case fatality rate among inmates in particular, owing to poor nutrition, limited access to health care, and high rates of undiagnosed pre-existing conditions, including tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection,” he said.
Quoting BuCor data, Defensor noted that eight prisons, which have a capacity of only 11,981 individuals, currently house 49,114 PDLs.
“There’s no question that on account of severe overcrowding, all of our correction facilities across the country are extremely high-risk closed settings for transmission, rendering both inmates and correction officers exceptionally vulnerable,” Defensor said.
He expressed his concern that the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, intended for only 6,435 PDLs, recorded a congestion rate of 349 percent, accommodating 28,885.
He also noted that Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Panabo City, Davao del Norte is “384 percent congested,” housing 6,555 PDLs versus its capacity for 1,354.
He also said the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City registered a congestion rate of 235 percent, accommodating 3,371 inmates versus capacity for 1,008.
Defensor also expressed his concern about the plight of the 2,793 PDLs prisoners in Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, which is 314 percent congested.
He said the government should also look after the health conditions of detainees in San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City; the CIW-Mindanao in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte; San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City; Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro; and the Leyte Regional Prison in Abuyog, Southern Leyte.
The BuCor’s recorded 195 COVID-19 cases involved 161 inmates and 34 correction officers at the NBP and the CIW.
A 49-year-old NBP correction officer who returned to his hometown became the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Itogon, Benguet on May 29, according to reports.