MANILA - The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) said Sunday it agrees on "all efforts to decongest" the country's jails as 9 inmates and 9 of its staff contracted COVID-19.
A group of prisoners earlier sought before the Supreme Court the release of low-risk inmates due to the threat of COVID-19. The high court told the Office of the Solicitor General to respond to the petition on or before April 24.
The country's 468 jail facilities have "more than 500 percent" congestion rate, according to BJMP spokesperson Chief Insp. Xavier Solda. The latest population size is close to 134,000.
"As far as the BJMP is concerned, we agree on all efforts to decongest our jails," he told ANC.
"It’s just that our mandate is for the safekeeping and development only... We cannot just release them (inmates) without court orders."
He said efforts are being done to address the problem, such as the construction of additional cells and jail buildings.
Authorities are "puzzled" as to how the 9 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in Quezon City Jail contracted the disease as the bureau prohibited contact visitation since March 11 and put all jails under total lockdown on March 20, Solda said.
Inmates are provided washable, surgical masks (when available), and face masks, and jail facilities are regularly disinfected, he added.
The bureau has also set up isolation areas for PDLs showing symptoms of the respiratory illness, according to Solda.
Solda said one of the nine infected PDLs is a senior citizen. He said most of them only have mild symptoms.
Meantime, all BJMP personnel infected with COVID-19 are "doing well" while on home quarantine and under close monitoring, Solda said.