MANILA - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Monday called on the government not to treat the plight of inmates during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis as a "joke" as Philippine prisons "host the perfect conditions" to further spread the virus.
De Lima's statement comes after several high-profile inmates, including convicted drug lord Jaybee Sebastian, reportedly died due to the disease.
"COVID-19 is not a joke, as the Duterte regime has treated it, especially in our prison system that hosts the perfect conditions for the spread of the virus," De Lima said in a statement.
"Regardless of who the dead are, whether free citizens or persons deprived of liberty, they shall remain to be counted as the victims of the incompetence, indifference, and impunity of the Duterte Administration in dealing with the pandemic," she said.
Earlier this year, De Lima urged the government to free elderly and sick inmates to decongest prisons during the COVID-19 crisis.
Physical distancing, regular handwashing, wearing of face masks, disinfecting living areas, and consulting doctors are "practically luxuries" that inmates "cannot afford," De Lima said in open letter to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases in April.
As of July 12, the Bureau of Corrections has recorded 343 confirmed COVID-19 cases among its inmates, of which 311 patients have recovered, according to the bureau's spokesman.
Eighteen have died, of which, 14 are from the New Bilibid Prison and 4 are from the Correctional Institution for Women.
The former Justice Secretary has been detained in the national police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City since February 2017 after several drugs charges were filed against her.
De Lima has repeatedly denied her alleged involvement in the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison, and asserted that she was detained for being a vocal critic of Duterte.