Philippine jails release over 15,000 inmates amid pandemic

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Updated 03 July 2020

Philippine jails release over 15,000 inmates amid pandemic

  • A majority of those released were elderly, or who had committed light or bailable offenses

MANILA: The Philippines has released over 15,000 inmates to ease congestion in its notoriously overcrowded jails and halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), officials announced on Thursday.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the move proved that prisoners were not being neglected by the government, as the country scrambles to contain its COVID-19 outbreak. 

“It also shows that the justice system in the country is working even during the pandemic,” he said, countering claims by leftist groups that the government was not doing enough to decongest the country’s jails.

Based on data released by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), a total of 15,322 inmates were released from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facilities between March 17 — a day after President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon in lockdown — and June 22.

A total of 5,910 of the freed inmates were from the National Capital Region; 2,598 from other parts of Luzon; 1,487 from Central Visayas; 897 from the Zamboanga Peninsula; 762 from Northern Mindanao, and the rest from other regions. 

The DILG pointed out that the majority of those released were elderly, or who had committed light or bailable offenses.

“All of these (inmates) were released by (the) authority of the courts, with some released in accordance with new guidelines issued by the Supreme Court because of the pandemic,” Año stressed.

To date, the BJMP has recorded 783 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, and 135 among its personnel. Año added that 549 of the infected inmates and 90 from the COVID-19 positive jail personnel have already recovered.

Despite budgetary and personnel limitations at the BJMP, he said, the bureau had established COVID-19 isolation centers for inmates.

 The bureau also intensified its triaging process, provision of more focused medical care to patients, daily disinfection of jails, targeted and expanded testing, and health education campaigns. 

“These are on top of the usual precautionary measures such as wearing of face masks, thermal scanning, use of foot baths, hand washing, and maintaining good hygiene,” Año said.

“We are closely monitoring the situation at BJMP jails across the country and we are not neglecting the COVID-19 positive cases ... We will not stop until all of them have recovered.”

Because physical distancing is a challenge inside jails, Año said that the BJMP also expanded its “virtual visitation” (e-Visitation) program for its inmates while jails remained in lockdown.

The Philippines has the most congested penal system in the world, with a total jail population of more than 215,000 as of November 2019, occupying space intended for a maximum capacity of 40,000, based on data from World Prison Brief.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that the 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent capacity in March 2020.


Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Updated 38 min 2 sec ago

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

  • As foreign visitors remain barred from entering the country, government plans to boost domestic tourism to keep hospitality sector afloat
  • COVID-19 has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to national revenue

JAKARTA: Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, a senior minister announced during a meeting with the country’s business community on Thursday. 
As Indonesia still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat. 
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said during the virtual forum with Indonesian businesspeople, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11. 
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak. 
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.  
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.” 
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana told Arab News. 
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.  
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said. 
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue. 
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers. 
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.