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23 May 2022 – Philippines

Bicutan Immigration Detention Centre (Warden Facility) Seen From Outside (Victoria Derbyshire,
Bicutan Immigration Detention Centre (Warden Facility) Seen From Outside (Victoria Derbyshire, "Inside Manila's 'Gulag' - The Philippine Detention Centre Where Britons Languish in Squalid Conditions," 12 October 2019,

The Philippines took measures early in the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention centres, though measures appear to have targeted prisons rather than immigration centres. In April 2020, authorities announced that some prisoners would be released to alleviate overcrowding and avoid the spread of COVID-19 (see the 18 May 2020 Philippines update). From March to October 2020, the Philippines released 82,000 prisoners. The Bureau of Immigration followed up on this announcement to say that it was speeding up deportation cases and was considering releasing non-citizens detained to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Responding to these announcements, the ICRC delegation in the Philippines underscored the importance of including all types of detention in the COVID measures, saying that it was “important to take stock of the potential gravity of the situation and to step up measures transversally in all places of detention–from police lockups, jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), prisons under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), to the provincial jails and immigration detention facilities.”

Among the immigration sites highlighted by the immigration authority was the BI Warden Facility at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, which as of June 2020 was confining 418 non-citizens even though it has a capacity of only 140. However, rather than releasing detainees, the immigration commissioner ordered officials to resolve deportation cases as soon as possible to “reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreak among the foreigners confined in the facility.” Morente said that bail could be given to some detained irregular migrants as well as an option to be released through “recognisance” which allows temporary freedom without posting a fee. The immigration authority has released two pregnant women on bail, while a third expectant mother has been sent back to her country. In May 2020, the immigration authority said that 75 of its personnel at the BI Warden Facility detention facility as well as 84 detainees had tested negative for COVID-19. However, only 84 out of the 418 detainees were tested due to the limited number of test kits.

The government of the Philippines claims that migrants, persons of concern such as refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons in its national vaccination plan. On the other hand, it is unclear whether undocumented migrants will be provided access to the vaccine. According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 709 refugees, 397 asylum seekers, 150,368 internally displaced persons and 388 stateless persons in the country. The GDP has been unable to obtain any additional information or details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in migration detention.

A 2019 documentary of the centre in Bicutan revealed the paltry conditions at the facility. Testimonies and photos from detainees showed rats and cockroaches, overcrowding, minimal healthcare conditions, and a lack of basic hygienic facilities like toilets and showers. In addition, immigration detainees are detained alongside criminal detainees and authorities make use of solitary confinement. The centre remained in use as of May 2022.

The key norms relating to immigration detention are provided in the Immigration Act of 1940. According to section 25 of that Act, non-citizens may be detained by immigration officers on board “the vessel bringing them or in such other place as the officers may designate” and “for a sufficient length of time to enable the officers to determine whether they belong to an excluded class and their removal to such other place to be at the expense of the vessel bringing them.” Section 29 of the Act lists the “excluded classes” and includes “(15) persons who have been excluded or deported from the Philippines”; “(16) persons who have been removed from the Philippines at the expense of the Government of the Philippines”; and (17) Persons not properly documented for admission as may be required under the provision of this Act.” In addition, section 45 of the Act provides that any individual who “(d) Being an alien, enters the Philippines without inspection and admission by the immigration officials, or obtains entry into the Philippines by wilful, false, or misleading representation or wilful concealment of a material” (…) shall be fined not more than one thousand pesos, and imprisoned for not more than two years, and deported if he is an alien.”

Moreover, section 13 of the Department of Justice Department Order No.94 of 1998, provides for the provisional release of refugee applicants from detention. Detainees who seek asylum may be released by order of the Department of Justice, the only conditions being that the asylum seeker agrees to follow the requirements of the Refugee Status Determination process.