THE Department of Justice (DoJ) has received from prison officials the death certificates of 21 inmates who died of the coronavirus, nine of whom were convicted drug traffickers, according to the agency.
“These, along with the swab test results and other documents, will be turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI),” Justice Undersecretary Markk L. Perete told reporters in a Viber message on Wednesday.
Government agents are investigating the deaths of high-profile inmates at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City after the government was criticized for its alleged lack of transparency.
Mr. Perete said it would be up to the NBI whether it would disclose the contents of the documents pending the probe.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said the NBI submitted its initial report last week and a progress report may be submitted by the end of the week.
He welcomed the statement of Senator Richard J. Gordon, who said the blue ribbon committee that he heads would wait for the results of the NBI probe before starting its own investigation.
“I’m glad that Senator Gordon has decided to await the results of the NBI investigation before considering the conduct of a Senate probe on the same subject,” Mr. Guevarra told reporters via Viber. “The NBI has the necessary expertise to verify the relevant facts.”
Mr. Guevarra has ordered the NBI to probe the deaths of nine-high profile inmates including convicted drug trafficker Jaybee Sebastian. He was one of those who testified against opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima, who is now in jail for alleged drug trafficking.
The Commission on Human Rights on July 25 called out the BuCor and Justice department for their “lack of transparency and noncooperation.”
The human rights body said it had sent a letter to the DoJ asking for the list of inmates who died of coronavirus and those who were quarantined but had not received a response 15 days after.
The commission said prison and detention facilities in the Philippines are among the “direst places” in the country.
With 215,000 prisoners nationwide, Philippine jails and prisons are overfilled more than five times their official capacity, making it the most overcrowded prison system in the world, according to the World Prison Brief (WPB).
As of 2017, it had 933 jails — seven national prisons and 926 city, district, municipal and provincial jails, which are not enough to contain inmates, three-quarters of whom were at the pre-trial stage, WPB said on its website. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas