MANILA – One inmate at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) dies every day, according to the facility’s new hospital head, describing the situation as “critical” when compared to global standards.
“In actual number, siguro mga (perhaps around) once every day,” Dr. Henry Fabro, the new chief of the NBP Hospital and NBP health services director, said of the mortality rate in Bilibid, in an interview with reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of a forum on prison health organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“I hate to say it’s usual pero nandun pa rin sa (but it’s still in the) level na talagang (that we’re) critical tayo, talagang (really) critical,” he added, comparing the figure to the population of the maximum security compound of the NBP which houses 18,000 prisoners.
Detained Senator Leila de Lima has filed a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry into the deaths of 29 prisoners at the cramped NBP in October this year allegedly due to subhuman conditions.
De Lima, who once led raids to bust contraband at the state penitentiary during her time as justice chief, claimed that 10 of these inmates died due to pneumonia and pulmonary tuberculosis, 14 due to non-communicable diseases, while the causes of death of the remaining 5 have yet to be confirmed.
Fabro could not immediately confirm the senator’s figures but he said that most of the deaths at the NBP were because of myocardial infarction or heart attack due to various causes.
He blamed the lack of medical personnel and poor equipment for the high death rate, saying the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) only has 13 doctors nationwide. Only 4 doctors and around 40 nurses are stationed at the NBP Hospital.
“The basic problem in the short stay we have here in NBP, I think would be the hospital because it is poorly-equipped. I can really say it is poorly-equipped that’s why we’re asking help from other agencies,” he explained.
Fabro, previously the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s (BJMP) health services chief in Metro Manila, started at the NBP only 3 weeks ago after some of its hospital officials were sacked in connection with the alleged VIP treatment of some prisoners.
He is now asking the Department of Health for more doctors to be assigned to the national penitentiary and other BuCor facilities.
The BJMP, on the other hand, said its death rate is at 300 to 800 inmates a year, out of a jail population of 136,000 nationwide.
Jail Senior Insp. Paul Borlongan, BJMP medical officer, said this figure is still at par with international standards but he also lamented the lack of medical personnel.
“In terms of the medical practitioners inside the BJMP facilities, we have 478 facilities nationwide but we are only 12 as of now plus 2 psychiatrists,” he said.
Prison health is the central theme of the 3rd Asian and Pacific Conference on Prison Health in Makati City which brings together health and prison officials from different countries for a 3-day sharing of best practices in addressing health issues behind bars.
A World Health Organization representative told attendees that tuberculosis, HIV and suicide rates are higher inside prisons compared to the general civilian population.
Meanwhile, the BuCor has yet to confirm if there were returnees or those prisoners who were prematurely released due to good conduct time allowance (GCTA) - or good behavior credits- who surrendered but died while waiting for clearance to be released.
BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag said there might be returnees who died but Fabro said he could not confirm this yet because they do not classify prisoners according to GCTA status.
Bantag, meanwhile, welcomed De Lima's resolution.
"Maganda 'yang finile ng ating senador para malaman ang katotohanan, di ba? Kaya nga kami open sa media para makita niyo wala naman tayo tinatago doon," he said.
(The senator filed a good measure to know the truth. That's why we're open to the media, so you can see we're not hiding anything.)
Latest figures from the BuCor and Department of Justice show that out of the 1,517 prisoners who did not commit heinous crimes but who surrendered because of the President's return ultimatum in September, 595 have been released while 251 of the 452 prisoners who have been pardoned or granted parole have also been released anew as of writing.