Villanueva urges inclusion of prison creation, expansion in COVID-19 recovery plan

A HOUSE leader on Tuesday called on the government to include in its coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) recovery plan the expansion of existing of prison facilities, or better yet, the construction of new ones in order to address the awful congestion in the country’s jails.

Deputy Speaker and Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) party-list Rep. Eduardo “Bro. Eddie” Villanueva stressed this following the reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections in Quezon City and Cebu City jails last week, due to overcrowding in the said facilities where social distancing is hard, if not impossible, to be implemented.

“CIBAC hopes that the government will include in its COVID-19 recovery plan or in its FY 2021 National Expenditure Program, at the very least, a sizeable budgetary allocation that will significantly improve the conditions of our jails. Especially that a ‘new normal’ conduct of living which includes social distancing and strict adherence to proper hygiene is expected to be observed at all facets of communal living, decongesting our prison facilities is a must to make sure our jails will not be hotbeds or epicenter of infections in its communities and that our persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) will be protected from contracting COVID-19 or any communicable disease for that matter,” Villanueva, founder of Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide (JIL Church).

“The problem of our terribly crammed full jails is an overdue assignment on the part of the government. As of 2019, penal facilities under either the Bureau of Corrections (BUCor) or the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has an average congestion rate of not less than 300%.

With or without the COVID-19 health emergency situation but more so now that we are in the midst of a pandemic where social distancing is key to survival, this problem deserves no less than the serious attention and funding plan of the government,” Villanueva lamented. According to the latest accessed data from the BuCor, Villanueva said it showed that the seven penal farm under it has an average congestion rate of 314%, meaning a prison houses inmates three-times its capacity.

Among the most jampacked, Villanueva said, are the New Bilibid Prison with 353% congestion rate, Mindanao Correctional Institute for Women (CIW-Mindanao) and Davao Prison and Penal Farm, which has congestion rates of 467% and 388%, respectively. The BuCor-supervised prisons are for those sentenced to serve three-year imprisonment or more.

On the other hand, BJMP Director Allan Iral said that as of December 2019, the 467 municipal, city and district jails under its supervision nationwide has an average congestion rate of 438%.

BJMP-supervised jails house inmates sentenced to less than 3-year imprisonment or those awaiting decision from municipal/city courts.

“Though they are offenders of laws and must be penalized according to our justice system, life for our PDLs is not yet over and there is always the ever-present opportunity for change of life.

Yes, they are deprived of liberty but they must not be denied of dignity and right to health, sanitation and humane environment. We must obey God’s admonition in giving respect to the dignity of human life.

As long as they are alive, there is always a ray of hope for them to be recrafted as productive members of our society again,” Villanueva explained.