By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter
THE Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has taken the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to task for lack of transparency in reporting coronavirus deaths inside the country’s jails and prisons.
“We call out the Bureau of Corrections and the Department of Justice for their lack of transparency and non-cooperation,” the agency said in a statement at the weekend. It added that it would look at the complaints of inmates’ families.
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 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.
The commission said prison and detention facilities in the Philippines are among the “direst places.”
The country’s jails had a congestion rate of 534% as of March 2020, it said, citing the Bureau of Jail Management
The country’s prisons, where convicted criminals stay, had a congestion rate of 302% as of December, it added.
The human rights body said it had sent letters to the Justice department seeking the list of inmates who died of the coronavirus and those who had been quarantined. It had not received a response 15 days after, it said.
The statement comes after Jaybee Sebastian, a drug convict at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City, supposedly died of the virus.
He was one of those who testified against opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima, who is now in jail for alleged drug trafficking.
The agency said the government should respect its mandate and work with it on various concerns about prisoners and prison workers.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said he had sought the list of dead prisoners from prison officials. He has also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the deaths of nine high-profile inmates, including Mr. Sebastian.
The Justice chief said they were “trying to uncover strange things happening” at the Bureau of Corrections. “It is not fair to say that the department has not been transparent about the conditions at the BuCor,” he told reporters in a Viber message.
The Human Rights commission said information about the prisoners’ deaths must be divulged so the government can craft measures to contain the pandemic inside jails.
The Justice department last week said 21 prisoners had died of the coronavirus.