De Lima bewails BuCor’s lack of transparency regarding deaths of PDLs


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for a Senate investigation into the utter lack of transparency surrounding the deaths of Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) and the actual extent of COVID-19 contagion in jails and prisons nationwide.

De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 491 after the reported deaths of nine high-profile inmates, including Jaybee Sebastian, who were all housed at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) Maximum Security Compound allegedly due to COVID-19.

“These deaths of high-profile NBP PDLs not only raise numerous doubts on how health protocols and procedures are being outrightly neglected by BuCor but also how this pandemic can be a convenient excuse to cover up torture and killings of PDLs or worse, to even simulate deaths of PDLs,” she said.

Reportedly, at least 476 PDLs died in different prison facilities nationwide from January to July 2020, with a daily average of two to three deaths or 50 to 60 deaths per month. Of the deaths, 21 were confirmed COVID-19 cases and another 24 were suspected to be COVID-19.

Of the 476 reported deaths, nine were deaths of high-profile PDLs including Jaybee Sebastian, Amin Imam Boratong, Benjamin Marcelo, Zhang Zhu Li, Jimmy Kinsing Hung, Francis Go, Jimmy Yang, Eugene Chua and Ryan Ong.

While BuCor eventually released the death certificates of said nine high-profile PDLs, De Lima said there are speculations that they may have not died due to COVID-19, or, their deaths may have been simulated. Such rumors abound because of lack of transparency and poor track record of the agency.

“The lack of transparency of BuCor with regard to deaths and of the true extent of contagion in jails and prison facilities, together with overcrowding, absence of reliable testing, inadequate health facilities, lack of protective medical equipment, non-implementation of physical distancing and health protocols inside jails and prisons, all show that the government failed in its duty to protect basic human rights and to value dignity of PDLs,” said De Lima.

Reportedly, a relative of Boratong confirmed that they were able to retrieve his body and bury it but they were not sure if it was Boratong since BuCor personnel refused to open the body bag while his medical records were not released even upon lawyers’ request.

On the other hand, it was also reported that the wife of Sebastian was not able to retrieve her husband’s body because she was told that his remains had to be cremated immediately at a public cemetery in Cavite within 12 hours “to prevent the spread of infection.” No autopsy was conducted.

Recently, the Human Rights Watch said that the “government has not fully reported prison deaths” and that concerned authorities should urgently investigate it while Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit also called for the accounting of deaths inside the NBP in order for the government to identify appropriate actions to address the pandemic in prisons.

De Lima, who chairs the Senate Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development Committee, filed bills on sweeping prison system reforms, logged as Senate Bills No. 180 and 181, this 18th Congress. These two measures both aim to help initiate comprehensive reforms in the country’s prison and correctional systems.

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