23 May 2022
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.
- Khaliq, R. U. “Philippines Frees Nearly 82,000 Prisoners Amid Pandemic,” Andalou Agency, 23 October 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/philippines-frees-nearly-82-000-prisoners-amid-pandemic/2016471
- Twitter, “Mike Navallo,” 22 April 2020, https://twitter.com/mikenavallo/status/1252803563786362881
- CNN Philippines, “Immigration Eyeing Bail for Detained Foreigners to Decongest Detention Centre,” 22 April 2020, https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/22/Immigration-alien-detention-center-COVID-19.html
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder: The Philippines,” accessed on 16 May 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=Gw5qWs
- ICRC, “Philippines: ICRC Steps Up Support to Congested Detention Facilities as COVID-19 Looms,” 9 April 2020, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/philippines-icrc-steps-support-congested-detention-facilities-covid-19-looms
- Republic of the Philippines, “74th World Health Assembly: More Effective and Efficient WHO Providing Better Support to Countries,” 24 May 2021 - 1 June 2021, https://apps.who.int/gb/statements/WHA74/PDF/Philippines-34d.pdf
- Talabong, R. “Immigration Bureau to Decongest Detention Centre After QC Jail Virus Outbreak,” Rappler.com, 22 April 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/258673-bureau-immigration-decongest-detention-center-after-quezon-city-jail-coronavirus-outbreak/
- United Nations, “IOM Philippines’ Report Reveals Challenges of Returned Overseas Filipino Workers due to COVID-19,” 20 May 2021, https://philippines.un.org/en/127227-iom-philippines-report-reveals-challenges-returned-overseas-filipino-workers-due-covid-19
- International Detention Coalition, “There are Alternatives,” 2015, https://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/There-Are-Alternatives-2015.pdf
- Government of the Philippines, “Department Order No.94 Establishing a Procedure for Processing Applications for the Grant of Refugee Status,” 4 March 1998, https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ede2d914.html
- Victoria Derbyshire, “Inside Manila’s Gulag - The Philippine Detention Centre Where Britons Languish in Squalid Conditions,” 12 October 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llwSUzmDh7M&ab_channel=HowardJohnson
- 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, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llwSUzmDh7M&ab_channel=HowardJohnson)
18 May 2020
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)