Taal ashfall hits Bilibid where returnees still sleep in covered court

MANILA, Philippines – Ashfall from the Taal Volcano in Batangas also reached the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City where hundreds of returnees are still sleeping in a covered court.

The Taal Volcano remained under Alert Level 4 on Monday, January 13, as it spewed lava fountains amid the threat of a hazardous eruption.

Describing the ashfall as "light and manageable," Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Director General Gerald Bantag said the returnees are safe.

"Returnees are safely accomodated under a covered court with enough beddings including mosquito nets and blankets," Bantag said in a report he sent to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

In his report to Guevarra, Bantag said he has ordered the BuCor staff to be on standby 24/7.

"If needed, partnerships with local hospitals may provide needed medical attention for worst case scenarios," Bantag said.

Guevarra said there were "no reports of problems or health-related issues as of now," citing the report to him by Justice Undersecretary Deo Marco, the undersecretary for corrections.

"Today the ashfall had stopped showering and clean up has begun," Bantag said.

Returnees remain in detention

According to Bantag's report, there are 410 returnees at the NBP, and 24 at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) – down from the 2,352 former convicts who surrendered based on President Rodrigo Duterte's ultimatum to heinous crime convicts.

Rappler has learned that some of the returnees who remain in the NBP are old and sickly.

At least 5 returnees have died in NBP custody by the end of 2019.

Returnees suffered harrowing conditions from the day of their turnover to Bilibid, where they slept on the road, until they were all placed inside the Minimum Security Compound where they scrambled for space in the covered court or the visiting area.

The government proved to be ill-prepared for the return of the former convicts, some of whom were qualified for release in the first place but were detained for months because of problematic record-keeping by the BuCor.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has promised it will conduct an investigation. (READ: Fixing the Bureau of Corrections: Government walks a tightrope)

The crisis was the result of knee-jerk policies of the government in response to public outrage over the aborted release of rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez, one of the supposed beneficiaries of the Good Conduct Time Allowance law.Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.