PHILIPPINE National Police chief, General Camilo Pancratius P. Cascolan has assured the country that keeping all police stations and offices as well as their lock-up facilities clean to better protect their men, their families and the public they serve remains one of his main concerns under the new normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have prioritized our health programs and is continuously asking our men in the field to look for their health and safety by practicing proper hygiene,” Cascolan said as he admitted that overcrowded police detention facilities pose a real problem when it comes to preventing the possibility that inmates may catch or transmit the virus due to lack of social distancing.
Cascolan said that to remedy the situation, police commanders are under instruction to see to it that proper hygiene will also be practiced in overcrowded police jails. The same thing is being done by the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame which is under the PNP Headquarters Support Service headed by Brigadier Gen. Alexander J. Sampaga.
Camp Crame jail houses high-profile inmates including arrested top-level drug traffickers and terrorists as well as Senator Leila M. de Lima.
“We’re looking at all of this. In fact, we are looking at all our jails and are ensuring that they are clean. If possible, they should be cleaned as much as twice a day and the custodial prisoners asked to take a bath twice daily,” the PNP chief said.
Cascolan said they are also thinking of other ways to decongest police jails. Violators of quarantine health protocols accosted on the streets are usually not mixed with ordinary criminals. Instead, they are herded into basketball courts and other big spaces where they are required to undergo a seminar and released after documentation and future filing of charges in court.
The Journal Group earlier reported that rising cases of so-called Persons Under Protective Custody or PUPCs, a new name for persons being held in police jails across the country who have contracted COVID-19 while in detention is now another main concern of the PNP.
There is no official report on the actual number of PUPCs in different PNP jails who have been afflicted with the killer virus but the threat of having so many custodial prisoners catching the virus in overcrowded and poorly-ventilated police detention facilities nationwide is a growing problem of the police force.
In Metro Manila alone, the National Capital Region Police Office headed by Major General Debold M. Sinas said that since last month, at least four PUPCs have died reportedly due to COVID-19 while 62 others have been identified as COVID-positive.
Another 21 PUPCs are also on quarantine while three are already in the hospital. As of latest count, there are six new cases at the Pateros Municipal Police Station jail and another seven at the Quezon City Police District Station 10 detention Many of the PUPCs being housed in different NCRPO jails have been arrested and charged for violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Poor living conditions inside cramp, overcrowded PNP lock-up facilities add up to concerns of both the police and the inmates.
It is believed that over a dozen custodial prisoners in many police station jails in Metro Manila and other parts of the country have been reported dead due to illnesses aggravated by the very poor living conditions in their cells, many of which were built to house only 40-50 people but are currently housing double or triple their actual maximum capacity.
Poor ventilation and lack of space aggravate the condition of custodial prisoners specifically those suffering from poor health. Apart from the common highly-communicable skin diseases and tuberculosis owing to poor sanitary condition, lack of water and other matters, PUPCs are also exposed to the possibility of contracting COVID-19.
Maj. Gen. Sinas has ordered all Metro Manila police station commanders and District Directors to ensure the daily inspection of their custodial facilities and see to it that the health condition and personal hygiene of the PUPCs will be fully taken care of.
Many NCRPO station commanders have been conducting regular feeding program for their PUPCs apart from providing them washable face masks. PUPCs are also being encouraged to take a bath at least twice a day to maintain their cleanliness.
Some police commanders have also been sending doctors and nurses in their lock-up facilities to check the condition of the inmates since the start of the pandemic.
They need to because keeping PUPCs with COVID-19 and other communicable diseases will also pose a major threat to their health and that of their officers and men.
Officials agreed that if there are already more than 3,000 policemen who have contracted COVID-19 while observing all health measures like social distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields and eating packed meals while having the capability to use alcohol and regularly take a bath and wash their hands and faces, the same is not being experienced by PUPCs.
“Custodial prisoners actually don’t have the luxury of enjoying what our policemen and the rest of Filipinos enjoyat the moment. It is next to impossible to practice ‘social distancing’ in police jails, much more provide them regular alcohol and other hygienic supplies,” an NRPO station commander told the Journal Group on condition of anonymity.
He also admitted that PUPCs cannot have a regular packed meal and eat them a meter away from their fellow inmates due to lack of space. “The prospect of contracting COVID-19 in a small and overcrowded jail is very big indeed particularly when an inmate or a visitor is a virus carrier,” he added.
Cases of PUPCs who have died due to ‘difficulty in breathing’ is also not rare in Metro Manila. Early this month, two male detainees died due to the said reason.