Physical distancing impossible in Manila City Jail even as COVID-19 threat looms

Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 29 2020 08:55 PM

In Manila City Jail, the age-old problem of congestion has been heightened by the threats of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Jayrex Bustinera

MANILA — While people around the world are being urged to practice physical distancing to keep COVID-19 from spreading, there's a place in Manila where this is simply impossible.

In Manila City Jail, the age-old problem of congestion has been heightened by the threat of COVID-19.

City Jail spokesperson Jayrex Bustinera says physical distancing is not possible inside because they are beyond capacity.

"The facility is ideal for only 1,100 persons. Right now, we have 4,800." Bustinera told ABS-CBN News.

This means the city jail is housing inmates 4 times more than its original capacity.

Prior to this, many netizens have raised questions on how prisons take care of their inmates in light of the pandemic.

As a band-aid solution, the city jail orders the Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) to stay in open spaces within their compound. This somehow alleviates their problem as PDLs get the chance to have some sun and even exercise.

"We have a 2 hectare property so nakakaluwag kahit papano. Nakakapagpa-araw sila at nakakapag-exercise."

Psychosocial activities like prayer group meetings also continue, especially for those who miss having family visitors.

The facility has been on absolute lockdown since the COVID-19 threat started.

No family members are being allowed to visit any of the inmates.

Authorities meanwhile promote "e-dalaw" a video chat system that they can avail instead of physical visits.

"Mag-iingat kayo diyan, 'wag nyong hayaang madapuan kayo ng COVID. 'Wag kayong mag-alala, lalaya rin ako balang araw," a masked PDL told a family member in a screen.

Bustinera said this service has been available even before, but there was a sudden surge of demand upon their lockdown.

They added more computers, and as of now, 10 computers have been made available for this service.

Strict daily disinfection measures are also in place. Even jail staff and employees are not being allowed to go home to contain the virus.

"Since jail staff po ang possible carrier ng virus mula sa labas, nag absolute lockdown po kami simula noong March 20."

A quarantine facility has also been set up for sick inmates.

"As of now, Manila City Jail remains COVID-19 free." says Bustinera.

However, no one there has been tested either to validate this claim.