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Rising cases of PNP inmates with COVID-19 worry police officials

INCREASING 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 Philippine National Police, the Journal Group learned yesterday.

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 at least four PUPCs have died reportedly due to COVID-19 while 62 others have been identified as COVID-positive as of this week.

Another 21 PUPCs are also on quarantine while 3 are already in the hospital. As of latest count, there are 6 new cases at the Pateros Municipal Police Station jail and another 7 at the Quezon City Police District Station 10 detention facility.

Many of the PUPCs being housed in different NCRPO jails have been arrested and charged with violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Poor living condition inside cramp, overcrowded PNP lock-up facilities add 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 condition 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 especially those suffering from poor health. Apart from the common highly-communicable skin diseases and tuberculosis owing to poor sanitation, lack of water and other problems, PUPCs are also exposed to the possibility of contracting COVID-19.

Yesterday morning, Jeffrey Elustrisimo, a PUPC at the QCPD Station 4 in Novaliches, Q.C. died while about to be confined at the East Avenue Medical Center. There is still no official report on the real cause of the PUPC’s death.

Last Thursday, two other PUPCs from the same QCPD station identified as Edwin Argate and Rodrigo Parma were found unconscious in their cell and were taken to the Novaliches District Hospital where the 51-year-old Argate was declared dead upon arrival by an attending physician.

Parma was said to be under observation at the same hospital. The cause of death of Argate is still to be determined. However, the QCPD Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit is already investigating the case.

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 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 to their lock-up facilities to check the condition of the inmates since the start of the pandemic.

They need to because having PUPCs with COVID-19 and other communicable diseases will also pose a major threat to their health and that of their officers and men.

Since last March, there have been a total of 3,901 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the PNP with 16 deaths and 2,707 recoveries.

PNP medical experts are also monitoring the cases of 660 police officers and men who have been described as Probable Persons Under Investigation or PUIs and 2,962 others who have been tagged as Suspected PUIs.

Officials agreed that if there are nearly 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.