Bilibid ‘killers’: Disease, congestion claim 5K inmates yearly
About 20 percent of inmates at New Bilibid Prison die every year because of overcrowding that also prevents officials from stopping the spread of diseases, according to the state penitentiary’s health services director, Ernesto Tamayo.
Bilibid holds some 26,000 inmates, meaning 5,200 die annually.
“It’s because of the overcrowding. Sometimes we cannot contain pulmonary tuberculosis,” Tamayo said at the Senate hearing on irregularities in the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
But the figures also include those who die from violence, Tamayo added.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said overcrowding in the country’s prisons had reached 605 percent.
She also cited a report from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism stating that in the Quezon City Jail men’s dormitory, as many as three to five inmates die every month of treatable conditions due to lack of ventilation from overcrowding, and due to lack of access to medical care.
This was deplorable, especially amid reports that influential inmates had been able to stay in hospitals for months, Hontiveros said.
“While these drug lords enjoy perks and preferential treatment, other inmates die from lack of medical care, which could otherwise be given to them. Instead of making our correctional facilities places for reforming convicts, this system has been turned on its head to satisfy shameless greed,” she said.
Hontiveros said Bilibid medical officer Ursicio Cenas was involved in this racket and called for him to be stripped of his medical license.
Meanwhile, senators also questioned the use of the subsistence allowance for prisoners, which could reach around P1 billion a year.
There is a subsistence allowance of P60 per inmate per day, which is supposed to cover three meals a day.
It was learned during the hearing that the caterers who win the contract to feed the inmates usually bid amounts lower than the allowance provided by the government.
Angelina Bautista, who earlier won a contract for the Correctional Institute for Women, won the contract with a bid of P39 per inmate per day.
But Sen. Panfilo Lacson wondered why the prisoners were being fed on a budget smaller than the one the government had set aside for them.
The whole amount is supposed to be set aside for their meals, Lacson said.
“If the budget is P60, you should feed them P20 per meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe you could play around with those meals, but it should not be lower than P60 because the item in the [General Appropriations Act] is subsistence allowance,” he said.
Spending a lower amount is like withholding soldiers’ subsistence allowance, Lacson added.
Must be fed properly
Sen. Richard Gordon also said inmates must be fed properly.
Melvin Buenafe, BuCor deputy director general for security and operation, said the policy was to return the extra amount to the detainees.
The remaining amount is used for their food if there are activities or events in the prison, such as when National Correctional Consciousness Week is being celebrated, Buenafe said.
Earlier, there were allegations that BuCor officials had received bribes from the caterer of Bilibid.
Former BuCor officer in charge Rafael Ragos earlier said a friend of his had paid P800,000 a month.
The Senate justice committee also cited BuCor officials Sr. Insp. Benilda Bansil and Corrections Officer Veronica Buño for contempt after the National Bureau of Investigation found they lied in their earlier testimony, based on the examination of their cell phones.
Bansil and Buño earlier denied dealing with Yolanda Camilon to facilitate the release of her partner for good conduct time allowance for a P50,000 fee.
But NBI chief Dante Gierran said the examination of their phones showed that they had been communicating with Camilon.
Their deleted messages also contained the terms 8k, 50k, 100k and Faeldon, among other words.
Faeldon referred to former BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon, whom President Duterte sacked in August for disobedience.
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