Philippine jails

Only 10% of Philippine convicts have received COVID-19 vaccines

Lian Buan

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SAFETY MEASURE. The New Bilibid Prison is disinfected on March 19, 2020.

Bureau of Corrections

(1st UPDATE) In three penal colonies with a combined population of more than 7,000, not a single convict has been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Philippine government has vaccinated only 10% of convicted prisoners in correctional facilities nationwide, data from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) showed.

Of the 48,511 convicts in seven penal colonies in the country, only 4,774 have received either the first dose or both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to BuCor data as of Monday, October 18.

At the extremely congested New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, only 14 have been vaccinated out of the 27,099 total population of the Reception and Diagnostic Center (RDC), medium security compound, and maximum security compound.

RDC is a separate facility located near the medium security compound where newly committed prisoners are briefed and prepared for a few months before they join the prison’s general population.

The minimum security compound, meanwhile, has 1,400 inmates and all of them have received their first dose, according to BuCor.

Even Bilibid personnel are not all vaccinated, with only 965 of the 2,218-strong workforce getting their jabs.

The Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City has the highest vaccination rate so far, with 3,100 out of 3,341 fully vaccinated.

In Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro (2,409 population), Iwahig in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan (2,723 population), and Leyte Regional Prison in Albuyog, Leyte (2,080 population), none have been vaccinated yet.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who has administrative supervision over BuCor, said on Monday that he will talk to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to increase the allocation of vaccines for prisoners.

“We will make proper representations with the office of Secretary Galvez,” said Guevarra, adding that doses could be secured on top of those that local government units can spare from their allocation.

“The crowded condition in prison facilities makes it necessary to give attention to the PDLs’ (persons deprived of liberty) plight,” he also said.

Rappler’s investigation in 2020 showed a high number of deaths in the national penitentiary, with dozens dying without clear causes. This raised doubts on whether the government has a clear picture of the COVID-19 situation inside Bilibid.

For a year now, prisoners’ rights group Kapatid, with the help of the Commission on Human Rights, has been calling on the government to include inmates in a higher priority group for vaccination, but they remain at the bottom with the general population.

The Philippine government just started vaccination of the general population in October.

Aside from the 48,511 convicts, there are 123,848 inmates in detention centers nationwide whose cases are pending. These are the inmates in the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which is under the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

BJMP prisons have a 403% congestion rate, with the 123,848 inmates occupying facilities meant only for 34,893 people.

BJMP spokesperson Xavier Solda told DZBB on Tuesday, October 19, that they have vaccinated 74,730 of their total population. Of that, 38, 811 have received both doses, largely from LGU allocations.

Kapatid has been seeking special attention for one of them, 66-year-old political prisoner Antonio Molina, who has cancer and is detained at the Puerto Princesa City Jail in Palawan.

“Molina now lies dying and has not been immunized against COVID-19,” said Kapatid. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.