As of mid-May, the Philippines had nearly 12,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 800 deaths. Since March 15, the Metro Manila region of the country has been subject to a lockdown, including a ban on entry and exit by land, domestic air, and domestic sea, and mandatory home quarantine and social distancing. Restrictions have also been introduced in other regions of the country. The Duterte administration has come under fire from human rights organisations for sanctioning the use of lethal force by the police and security forces to enforce the lockdown, which has resulted in multiple killings and tens of thousands of arrests.
The Philippines is notorious for its overcrowded jails and prisons. On April 17, 9 inmates and 9 prison employees at the Quezon City jail tested positive for COVID-19. On April 21, 18 inmates and one worker in the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong were reported to be infected with COVID-19 after coming into contact with a sick inmate.
Following those incidents in correctional facilities and prisons, on April 22, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said that it would move to “decongest its detention center in Bicutan, Taguig City to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreak among the foreigners confined in the facility.” It stated that “overcrowding in the facility exposes both the inmates and their guards to the risk of getting infected with the virus.” The Commissioner of the Bureau, Jaime Morente, “ordered the bureau’s legal division and other concerned offices to speed up the resolution of deportation cases against foreigners presently detained at the BI Warden Facility (BIWF) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan.” He also said that the BI “might consider granting bail and release via recognizance for aliens who cannot be deported yet due to pending court cases.” The same press release noted that BIWF had identified high-risk detainees within the facility, including three pregnant women. Two of these women were released on bail and one was deported.
Regarding conditions in the facility, the press release stated: “Morente previously ordered the creation of a BI-Covid Task Force that would ensure all employees, as well as wards, receive appropriate medical response and Covid-related concerns are properly addressed… To ensure sanitized premises, all wards were advised to always take a bath, and are not allowed to enter common facilities without properly sanitizing themselves. They were likewise informed of DOH protocols in proper handwashing and sanitizing.” No visitors are allowed to enter BIWF. The Philippine National Police has been tapped to assist in securing the facility’s premises.
- Bureau of Immigration, “BI to decongest alien detention center during COVID-19 outbreak,” Bureau of Immigration, 22 April 2020, http://immigration.gov.ph/images/News/2020_Yr/04_Apr/2020Apr22_Press.pdf
- CNN Philippines Staff, “Immigration eyeing bail for detained foreigners to decongest detention center,” CNN Philippines, 22 April 2020, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/22/Immigration-alien-detention-center-COVID-19.html
- D. Edward, “Human rights abuses on the rise in the Philippines amid coronavirus lockdown,” ITV News, 12 May 2020, https://www.itv.com/news/2020-05-12/human-rights-abuses-on-the-rise-in-the-philippines-amid-coronavirus-lockdown/
- J. Gavilan, “’Catastrophic’ situation in jails feared if ‘low-risk’ prisoners not released,” Rappler, 7 April 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/257241-catastrophic-situation-feared-low-risk-prisoners-not-released-coronavirus
- F. Gutierrez, “Solidarity and sharing in an unequal society: Covid-19 in the Philippines,” Open Democracy, 2 May 2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/solidarity-and-sharing-unequal-society-covid-19-philippines/
- Human Rights Watch, “Philippines: Reduce Crowded Jails to Stop COVID-19,” Human Rights Watch, 6 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/06/philippines-reduce-crowded-jails-stop-covid-19
- M. Petty and N. J. Morales, “Philippines extends lockdown in capital beyond 11 weeks,” Retuers, 12 May 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-philippines/philippines-extends-lockdown-in-capital-beyond-11-weeks-idUSKBN22O0LF
- R. Talabong, J. Gavilan, and L. Buan, “While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails,” The Rappler, 18 April 2020, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/258297-while-government-stalls-coronavirus-breaks-into-philippine-jails
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in the Philippines,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/asia-pacific/philippines
- Prisoners in the Quezon City Jail Seen From Above, (Maria Tan, AFP, “While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails,” Rappler, 18 April 2020, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/258297-while-government-stalls-coronavirus-breaks-into-philippine-jails)