Bilibid hospital chief says 20% of maximum security inmates die every year

Aika Rey

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Bilibid hospital chief says 20% of maximum security inmates die every year

That means around 5,200 maximum security inmates die every year due to contagious diseases, natural causes, and stab wounds

MANILA, Philippines – About 20% of maximum security inmates at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) die every year mostly due to overcrowding inside the jail, the NBP hospital chief Ernesto Tamayo told senators on Thursday, October 3.

At the 8th Senate hearing on the good conduct time allowance law, Senator Risa Hontiveros asked Tamayo about the deaths in Bilibid.

“Mortality rate is 20%,” answered Tamayo.

Appearing to be shocked, Senator Richard Gordon asked a follow-up question: “20% die?”

Tamayo replied: “20% of the population of the maximum [security], sir. In New Bilibid Prison alone.”

There are about 26,000 maximum security inmates in NBP. That means around 5,200 inmates die at the hands of the Bureau of Corrections.

Gordon, who was presiding the hearing, quoted Senate President Vicente Sotto III as saying: “Sabi ni Senator Sotto, ‘Hindi na pala kailangan ng death penalty.’ (Senator Sotto said, ‘We don’t need death penalty anymore.’)”

Tamayo later clarified that the figure was due to the spread of highly contagious pulmonary tuberculosis at the overcrowded jail cells. He said that deaths from stab wounds were also added in their data, apart from natural causes.

‘Suspend Bilibid doctor’

In the September 12 hearing, former inmate Jose Galario Jr, ex-Valencia City mayor, revealed that some prisoners paid Bilibid hospital doctor Ursicio Ceñas for their extended stay.

Galario had observed that some prisoners had taken advantage of their extended stay at the Bilibid hospital, despite looking “strong.” 

On Tuesday, Hontiveros asked about the medical condition of the prisoners who were admitted at the penitentiary’s hospital.

DENIAL. Bilibid hospital doctor Urcisio Cenas denies involvement in the anomalies in the penitentiary's hospital. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

In response, Ceñas said that some of the inmates have diabetes mellitus, bronchial asthma, pulmonary mass, and heart diseases.

Hontiveros then said: “Ang problema po, ayon na rin kay mayor Galario na dati ring inmate, ay nagbibigay ng hospital pass para manatili sa ospital ang mga convicts na may kayang magbayad, kahit wala naman silang sakit na gaya ng sinasabi ‘nyo.”

(The problem is, according to mayor Galario who was a former inmate, that convicts, who can afford, avail of a hospital pass to have an extended stay, even if they don’t have a medical condition like what you were saying.)

Ceñas denied giving out hospital passes again, but admitted to issuing medical certifications to prisoners.

Hontiveros ended her interpellation by suggesting that Ceñas’ license be revoked.

“With all due resepct, I think the body should recommend that Dr Ceñas be stripped of his medical license by the Professional Regulation Commission for unprofessional, unethical, and dishonorable conduct,” Hontiveros said.

Dire prison condition is among the topics that the Senate committee on justice is tackling as a result of the marathon hearings on the GCTA law.

In previous hearings, it was revealed that a ward in Bilibid hospital does not have showers and that it used drums to store water instead.

Former acting Bureau of Corrections chief Melvin Ramon Buenafe had said that state penitentiary needs more modern facilities, whether they fall under minimum or maximum security. –

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at