With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo M. Año said that persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) are safer inside the confines of their detention cells than outside mingling with the rest of the population.
“With the suspension of visitation rights, the PDLs have no way of contacting the virus and are therefore much safer than all of us who are out in the open and exposed to the movement of people and the virus,” said Año.
“We want people to be in their homes doing home quarantine. Our PDLs are effectively on home quarantine already since they’re locked up,” he said.
The DILG Secretary said the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has suspended jail visits in all of its 468 BJMP-supervised jail facilities nationwide as early as March 11, 2020 even before the declaration of a national public health emergency.
“While the PDLs are incarcerated, we have their welfare in mind. Sa gitna ng krisis sa COVID-19, hindi namin isinasantabi ang kanilang kapakanan kaya maaga pa lang ay marami ng hakbang na ipinatupad ang BJMP para masigurong ligtas sila sa COVID-19,” he said.
The DILG Chief said that the BJMP has a complete complement of doctors and nurses who are monitoring the health of the PDLs 24 hours a day.
Año issued the statement after some sectors called for the immediate release of first-time and low-risk offenders so that they will not be in a susceptible condition to acquire COVID-19.
“Contrary to the claims of some sectors, we have, in fact, the best intentions for PDLs that is why they should remain in jails. They will be more vulnerable and exposed to the virus if they are released at this time,” he said.
“All prison detention cells are COVID-free. That is the safest place right now,” said Año.
“The government is faced with the challenge of making sure that people stay in their homes to prevent the spread of the virus. With the PDLs inside their cells, we have one less sector to worry about because essentially, they are already quarantined and therefore, have no way of getting the virus,” he said.
Año said that the Bureau is taking extra precaution considering that one single case in a particular facility could affect the hundreds of PDLs and BJMP personnel in that area.
He added that the BJMP already implemented the electronic dalaw or “e-dalaw” as actual visits by relatives have been suspended amidst the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
“Walang sinumang bisita muna kahit sino dahil mahirap na baka may dala pa silang virus. Hindi kasi natin nakikita ang ating kalaban,” Año said.
With the e-Dalaw System, each inmate is allowed to have 10-15 minutes use of Skype and Facebook every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm so they can continue to communicate with their families and relatives outside the detention facilities.
Stringent measures in place
Meanwhile, BJMP Spokesperson Chief Inspector Xavier Solda said that strict preventive measures are being implemented to block infection and spread of COVID-19 in jail facilities.
“All BJMP personnel undergo thermal scan every day and jail officers who come near the PDLs wear face masks and foot bags,” Solda said.
“The implementation of precautionary measures which are anchored on the DOH protocols are strictly monitored by the BJMP COVID-19 Task force,” he explained.
He added that hand washing areas are also placed at the prison gates to maintain cleanliness and personal hygiene on top of regular disinfection in jail premises.
To date, there are 134,748 PDLs nationwide with Cebu City Jail Male Dormitory having the highest number of PDLs at 6,237; followed by Manila City Jail with 4,916 PDLs; and Quezon City Jail with 3,821 PDLs.