AS PRISONERS’ families anxiously wait for the long-delayed decision on the petition seeking the release of those at risk from the threats of the pandemic, we, as a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, raise our concern over the silence of prison officials on coronavirus data inside highly congested jails.
The silence of prison officials is cause for concern. What are they hiding? It’s been over a month since we last heard of details regarding infections and deaths inside the country’s prisons, where physical isolation, among other health protocols, is in no way possible.
In reports last June 11, the last time we heard of data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology—officials reported at least 745 prisoners and 125 personnel who tested positive for the highly contagious disease. Of the 745 prisoners, at least six have died.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Corrections, in the latest data, said that they have at least 222 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 10 who died of the lethal respiratory disease. But this excludes the dozens of prisoners who died of still undetermined causes since the lockdown started in mid-March.
Based on investigative reports, there is an alarming level of prisoners dying at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa. At least 80 prisoners died from May 1 to May 19. The figure surpassed the prison camp’s average mortality rate of 50 to 60 deaths per month.
Disregarding the need to report real-time data on coronavirus cases inside prisons means leaving in the dark those behind bars and the families who live with the worst fears while asking for exigent and positive action on the petition filed by 22 political prisoners before the Supreme Court last April 8.
We earlier pressed prison officials for transparency, asserting that real-time data are critical in saving the lives of populations incarcerated behind bars: “To mitigate the worsening effects of the disease, officials should transparently reveal prison deaths and other coronavirus-related information. Without these reports, prisoners and their families are kept in the dark and forced to grapple with fear—which could be avoided only if prison officials will tell the truth.”
Exigent actions and truthful data should come together to address the deadly effects of the contagion: Stop the delays. Prison officials need to tell the truth because you cannot protect prisoners nor come up with effective solutions by hiding real-time data about the actual state of the imprisoned population and the personnel that service them.