Bureau of Corrections

Guevarra: BuCor’s protocol for dying inmates ‘inadequate’

Lian Buan

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The justice secretary says 476 dead inmates in 7 months is not 'substantially higher' than the average in 2019

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday, July 22, that the Bureau of Corrections’ or BuCor’s protocol for convicts who die in their custody is “inadequate.”

“When BuCor people presented to us their protocols, when someone dies in prison, we noted that it’s quite inadequate, so this will be the subject matter of further discussion,” Guevarra said in a mix of English and Filipino on Wednesday during the pre-State of the Nation Address forum of the peace and security cluster of the Cabinet.

Guevarra was unable to elaborate which protocols he found inadequate, but said the probe of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will provide some clarification.

Guevarra earlier said that 476 convicts died in BuCor custody in 7 months, or from January to July 19, 2020, due to both coronavirus and non-coronavirus causes. Only 21 died from COVID-19, said Guevarra, 9 of whom were high-profile inmates.

“They informed us that on the average, even prior to the COVID pandemic, the average daily rate of deaths in the penitentiaries all over the country is something like, anywhere between two and 3 persons dying every day, for various causes,” said Guevarra.

“So if you average (476) if you divide that by the total number of days during that period, it would appear to be something like 2.3 on the average daily, so we can say it’s not substantially higher than the daily average during the past year, there’s a slight increase and I suppose that is because precisely of COVID-19,” said Guevarra.

But BuCor’s own chief doctor, Henry Fabro, said one inmate dying a day is already a “critical condition,” given the lack of doctors and nurses in the Bilibid hospital.

This was aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic that hit just when the hospital was being renovated, forcing BuCor to resort to external hospital referrals, as revealed in Fabro’s memorandum obtained by Rappler.

Rappler found in earlier investigations that dozens died without ever being tested, raising questions about limited testing in prison facilities, and concerns about not getting a full picture of the state of infection in prison.

High profile deaths

Guevarra said that of the 21 convicts who died of the coronavirus, 9 are high-profile convicts, 9 are from the general population, and 3 are from the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW).

The Department of Justice (DOJ) confirmed that Jaybee Sebastian, witness against Senator Leila de Lima, was among the 9 high-profile convicts who died from COVID-19.

Sebastian was immediately cremated following prison protocol, stirring speculations of a possible anomaly that the convicted drug lord could be alive and was just made out to be dead to free him.

Guevarra said the NBI probe will get to the bottom of it.

An investigation at the Senate is upcoming, with Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Senator Richard Gordon questioning why the DOJ and Department of Health (DOH) were not immediately notified of Sebastian’s death. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

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