Entry of new inmates in local jails suspended to mitigate coronavirus transmissions

PRISONS FACILITIES managed by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) will not be accepting new inmates until Aug. 31 to prevent coronavirus transmissions. BJMP handles jails at the district, city and municipal levels. Judges nationwide have been ordered not to issue commitment orders to these jails during the moratorium, and instead send newly-arrested individuals to local police stations which have detention facilities. Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez said on Tuesday the order was made upon the request of Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año. Mr. Marquez also said Police General Archie Francisco F. Gamboa has confirmed that they can accommodate the temporary arrangement. The Aug. 31 date “may be extended in a subsequent circular of the Office of the Court Administrator, if found to be warranted,” reads the order issued on July 21. The Supreme Court has issued several guidelines to address congestion in jails to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as the release of indigent inmates through reduced bail or own recognizance, and conduct of hearings through video conferencing, among others. From the start of the lockdown on March 17 until July 3 a total of 43,171 prisoners were released nationwide, according to the court. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Witness Sebastian’s death won’t affect case vs De Lima — Justice chief

THE DEATH of high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian, a witness in the drug-related charges against detained Senator Leila M. de Lima, will not affect the case’s trial, according to Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra. “Jaybee Sebastian is only one in an array of witnesses against Senator De Lima,” he told reporters via Viber. “His loss does not affect in any significant manner the overall strategy of the prosecution in the pending criminal cases,” he added. Mr. Sebastian, a convicted kidnapper and carjacker, testified in 2016 against Ms. de Lima at a House of Representatives probe on her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary. The senator has been detained since February 2017 over charges for conspiring to commit illegal drug trading in prison when she was justice secretary. Mr. Guevarra on Monday directed the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the death of nine high-profile prisoners who were convicted over involvement of illegal drugs, including Mr. Sebastian. The Department of Justice said on Monday that Mr. Sebastian died of coronavirus and his remains were immediately cremated, in accordance with health safety protocols. Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Q. Bantag said 21 inmates have died of coronavirus infection since March, according to the DoJ statement. Meanwhile, Senator Ralph G. Recto said on Tuesday a photo or video footage of the remains of prisoners who died from the coronavirus would be enough proof to allay suspicions surrounding the death of high profile inmates. “The proof of death is a photo of the body. If there is, then doubts will be laid to rest,” he said in a statement. Mr. Recto noted that the photo or footage needs only to be presented to the concerned agency and does not have to be publicized. “Show them to the Justice Secretary — and the death certificates and medical records of deceased high-profile drug lords — and all the conspiracy theories in this land, where weaving them is a national hobby, will be buried,” he said. Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III has called for an investigation over the failure of the Bureau of Corrections to report their deaths. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Charmaine A. Tadalan

57 deceased OFWs set for return July 28

ANOTHER 57 deceased overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Saudi Arabia are expected to arrive home on July 28. “This is the third batch of repatriation being undertaken by an interagency committee initiated by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) last month, and had so far brought home a total of 137 OFWs who succumbed to the COVID-19 and other causes,” DoLE said in a statement on Tuesday. The first batch of 49 OFW remains arrived July 10, while the second batch of 88 were brought home July 19. — Gillian M. Cortez

BI clarifies only long-term visa holders allowed by Aug. 1

FOREIGNERS WITH long-term visas such as permanent or immigrant visas are the only ones who will be allowed to enter the Philippines starting Aug. 1, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) reiterated on Tuesday. Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said foreign tourists, non-immigrant visa holders, and those that fall under other categories are still prohibited from entering based on the policy approved by the national task force handling the coronavirus response. The clarification came after immigration offices at airports and other field offices received several queries on the previous announcement about the partial reopening of the country’s borders to foreigners. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas