'Like planting a time bomb': Transfer of prisoners with COVID-19 to Bilibid denounced

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 24 2020 04:12 PM

MANILA - Relatives of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison on Friday denounced the transfer to the national penitentiary of 18 inmates from the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) who tested positive for COVID-19.

Henedina Javellana, wife of a person deprived of a prisoner, said they were surprised by the transfer last Tuesday.

“Nung nalaman ng mga pamilya ng inmates na nilipat sa Bilibid ang 18 positive cases from CIW, doon kami nabahala, natakot, nagalit,” Javellana told ABS-CBN News in a video call interview.

(When families of inmates learned of the transfer of 18 positive cases from CIW, we got worried, scared, angry.)

The state penitentiary in Muntinlupa City just reported its first COVID-19 case on Thursday.

Javellana went on: “Tama na ang ginawa ng BuCor initially. This time may isa [na nag-positive]. Dinagdagan mo pa ng 18. Hindi ko alam. It’s like planting a time bomb sa loob, sila mismo nagtanim.”

(The BuCor has done enough. This time, one [in Bilibid] already tested positive. Then they added 18. I don't know. It's like planting a time bomb inside.)

The inmates from the women's prison in Mandaluyong City were brought to a Bilibid isolation facility referred to as “Site Harry” inside the medium security compound.

Javellana expressed concern for inmates in the compound, especially the elderly and the sick.

She said Site Harry, which she has been visiting regularly for the past 15 years, is still part of the visitation area and within the perimeter of the medium security compound.

"Kahit ano pa ang logic nila na kesyo malayo... Susceptible at vulnerable pa rin ang 9,000 inmates na nandoon,” Javellana said.

(No matter what they say that it's far... The 9,000 inmates there are still susceptible.)

She said special care inmates, including the sickly, are held just 200 meters away from there. 

Relatives of prisoners are asking the Bureau of Corrections to transfer the female inmates to a quarantine facility outside the national penitentiary.

As Javellana put it: “I believe the confinement nila sa Bilibid ay hindi tama is not right). These patients should be confined in a proper place na sinasabi ng DOH (that the DOH is saying). Hindi lang naman sila PUIs (They're not just PUIs). They are already positive of the virus.”

She then continued: “We are all helpless. Nakasalalay lahat ng desisyon at concerns sa BuCor. Kaming mga dalaw walang right to question that. But as a Filipino, general public, dapat ilagay sila sa tamang lugar saan sinasabi ng DOH na binded sa pangangailangan ng mga kapatid natin sa CIW.”

(We are all helpless. All decisions and concerns are up to the BuCor. Those of us who just visit have no right to question that. But as a Filipino, general public, they should put the patients at the right place that the DOH is saying.)

But BuCor spokesperson Col. Gabriel Chaclag assured relatives of prisoners that the isolation facility is far from where other NBP inmates are staying.

The facility is also far from residential areas, he added.

“Malayo po sa kabahayan ito, enclosed far from the community. Walang nakakalapit. Malayo po ang prison cell sa isolation area at sinisigurado namin na hindi nakakalapit ang ibang PDL. Ang pinakamalapit na prison cell ay 400 meters away. Ang community naman ay kilometers away.”

(This is far from residences, enclosed far from the community. No one can come close. The prison cells are far from the isolation area and we're making sure other [prisoners] won't be able to come close. The nearest prison cell is 400 meters away. The community is kilometers away.)

Chaclag said most of the female inmates are asymptomatic.

“'Yung 18 na nadala from CIW na nandito sa NBP, OK naman ang kanilang kalagayan. Mino-monitor lang natin ang isang 84 years old. Halos lahat sila ay asymptomatic. Kung mayroon man, mild symptoms lang, mga apat,” Chaclag said in a phone interview.

(The 18 we brought from CIW, they are OK. We are monitoring just one 84-year-old. Almost all are asymptomatic. If at all, just mild symptoms, around 4.)

He went on, “We are giving them focused medical care para di bumagsak sa (so it won't worsen to) pneumonia or difficulty of breathing.”

On Thursday, the NBP reported its first case of COVID-19.

A male inmate from the medium security compound, who was hospitalized at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) on April 17, tested positive for the virus. The patient is still confined at the RITM.

Chaclag said about 40 inmates were placed under isolation following contact tracing.

Medical staff who attended to the patient were also placed under quarantine.

They are being looked after by the NBP’s medical personnel.

“Na-isolate natin sila at ino-observe sa quarantine area, malayo sa building ng mga CIW inmates. Wala naman silang severe o critical symptoms. Marami sa kanila ay asymptomatic,” the BuCor spokesperson said.

(We have isolated them and are under observation in the quarantine area, far from the building of the CIW inmates. They don't have severe or critical symptoms. Many of them are asymptomatic.)

He added, “May physical distancing sila doon. Maganda ang pagkain at binibigyan ng vitamins.”

(There's physical distancing there. They get good food and are given vitamins.)

Chaclag also said the BuCor has distributed disinfectants, face masks and vitamins to its personnel and prisoners. There is also an information drive about the disease at the prison facility. 

“Umaasa kami na mapanatag ang loob ng mga kasama sa labas at mga kamag-anak ng mga nasa loob,” Chaclag said.

(We hope that relatives of those inside will be assured.)

The bureau imposed a ban on visitation at the NBP last March in light of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Various groups have urged the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice to release low-risk offenders and those most vulnerable to contracting the virus, including the old and the sick, as they faced the threat of infection in the country's crowded jails.