Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has sought a Senate inquiry into the recent wave of deaths involving 29 Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City due to subhuman conditions inside the national penitentiary.
De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 208 urging the appropriate Senate committee to investigate thoroughly the deaths of Bilibid inmates within a 17-day period last October due to lack of basic necessities and proper medical treatment.
“These intolerable deaths are a ‘grisly record’ that cannot be set aside, but rather, deserves to be looked into and addressed with the help of an independent and compassionate eye of the Senate,” she said.
“Even though the PDLs are incarcerated due to their conflict with the law, there is no valid justification for treating them less than humans and subjecting them to subhuman conditions,” she added.
In October alone, data from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) revealed that 10 prisoners at the national penitentiary died of contagious pneumonia and pulmonary tuberculosis while 14 other PDLs passed away due to non-communicable illnesses. The causes of deaths of five remaining fatalities are set to be confirmed.
Note that the current congestion rate inside the national penitentiary is reported to be at its peak of 332 percent of its capacity as there are 27,000 convicts serving their respective sentence at the maximum security compound of the NBP even though it can only accommodate around 6,435 inmates.
In the recent Senate hearings on the corruption issues at the BuCor, Director for Health Services Ernesto Tamayo confirmed that 20 percent of the total population of the NBP die annually due to various illnesses, with pulmonary tuberculosis being the most common health issue among PDLs.
One of BuCor’s food providers further revealed, during the same Senate hearing, that there is a very meager allotment of ?39 as daily meal budget for inmates, which is below the appropriated ?60 per inmate under the 2018 General Appropriations Act.
If the Duterte administration was able to increase borrowings and taxation over the past couple of years, the lady Senator from Bicol said she believes that it is capable of providing the funds necessary to deliver basic decent living conditions for PDLs.
“The basic and decent living condition for the PDLs is non-negotiable and not subject to any diminution by operation of our laws and our legal and administrative processes,” she said.
According to the Senator, the deprivation of humane living conditions during incarceration constitutes cruelty in the administration of justice and is punishable by law, citing Art. 235 of the Revised Penal Code for maltreatment of prisoners.
“More than our legal obligations under our laws and international commitments, it is our moral obligation as human beings to treat our PDLs humanely and compassionately; the same way we want our loved ones to be treated if they suffer the unfortunate fate of incarceration, heaven forbid,” she added.
De Lima has advocated for a suitable facility for PDLs by pushing through with the proposed construction of the state-of-the-art prison facility inside the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija.
She said the proposed facility is the long-term solution to the worsening congestion in the NBP that has also resulted in inhuman living conditions for inmates and prison-based criminality.