THE Senate will probe coronavirus deaths at the country’s national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City after nine drug lords reportedly died.
“I filed a resolution to investigate the deaths at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP),” President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters via teleconference on Monday. “There are too many unanswered questions.”“Why are there no autopsies? Were relatives informed? Why was the Department of Justice not informed?” Mr. Sotto asked.
Mr. Sotto sought the probe under Senate Resolution 468 after nine high-profile inmates died, including drug convict Jaybee Sebastian who was involved in the drug trafficking case against Senator Leila M. de Lima.
Bureau of Corrections Chief Gerald Bantag confirmed the deaths, but refused to identify the inmates who died of the coronavirus, citing the Data Privacy Act. Twenty-one prisoners out of 339 confirmed cases have died.
“Due to unclear, inaccurate and unverified reports, speculations are now being made as to whether or not these NBP inmates actually died due to COVID-19,” according to a copy of the resolution.
Meanwhile, Senator Franklin M. Drilon slammed prison officials for invoking the Data Privacy Act, arguing that information on the death of any person is public.
“Disclosing information about a prisoner’s death is not protected information under the Data privacy law,” he said in a statement. “The fact that a person is dead is not contemplated by the law.” He also said the lack of transparency could be abused to fake deaths.
“It is dangerous and it is prone to different kinds of abuses,” Mr. Drilon said. “I am afraid it can be used to make prisoners disappear, cover up extrajudicial killings and even to fake death,” he said.
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), a database kept by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research at the University of London.
As of 2017, the Philippines 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 are at the pre-trial stage, WPB said on its website.
Many jails in the Philippines fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to act fast and release some detainees to prevent a major health catastrophe.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Monday said he would order the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct its own probe. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas