MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – At least 9 inmates and 9 personnel at the Quezon City Jail tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) announced on Friday, April 17.
The 9 inmates have been isolated at a facility in Payatas, Quezon City, said BJMP spokesman Chief Inspector Xavier Solda said in an online briefing. The 9 personnel are under home quarantine.
The city jail was built for 800, but as of 2016, it housed more than 3,800 inmates, making it difficult, if not impossible, to implement physical distancing measures that can prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19.
The positive coronavirus cases were made public more than 2 weeks after a paralegal working under the jail tested positive for coronavirus. However, the paralegal was earlier reported to be working from home and isolated before the lockdown was declared.
The BJMP earlier said that at least 21 inmates have been isolated since the beginning of the outbreak of the virus. It is unclear if the confirmed cases came from this group.
The BJMP earlier recommended for release of inmates to decongest their facilities. Asked for updates, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said in an online briefing on Friday that they are waiting for the decision of the courts.
Jails are one of the most vulnerable areas during this pandemic as it is difficult to enforce physical distancing measures there. Thus the campaign of various groups for the release of the sickly and the elderly prisoners.
The confirmed cases in the Quezon City Jail shows "why it’s so critical the government actively pursues early release of detainees charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, as well as the sick and older inmates,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to act urgently to mitigate what could be a catastrophe inside the country's overcrowded prisons before it’s too late.”
The Department of Justice said it already ordered their release even before the coronavirus outbreak.
The House of Representatives justice committee has also recommended the temporary release on bail of low-level offenders, as well as sick and elderly prisoners, through a 6-page document signed by committee chairperson Vicente Veloso.
Other countries have already released prisoners due to the pandemic. (READ: List of countries releasing prisoners due to coronavirus fears)
Philippine jails are known to be overcongested, further crowded by inmates arrested under President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign.
As of Thursday, April 16, the Philippines had 5,660 coronavirus cases, with 362 deaths and 435 recoveries. The number of infections worldwide surpassed 2 million, while over 137,000 people have died across 193 countries and territories. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.