No fewer than 21 inmates at the Philippines’ national penitentiary have died from the coronavirus since March, including a prisoner who testified against an opposition senator detained on illegal drug charges, officials said Monday.
“A total of 349 inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City in metro Manila have been infected with the coronavirus since March,’’ Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
Only five inmates remain in the prison’s quarantine and isolation facility, he added, citing information from the Bureau of Corrections.
Among the prisoners who died was Jaybee Santiago, convicted of kidnapping and carjacking in 2009, who ran illegal drug operations from inside the prison.
He testified against Sen. Leila De Lima, who has been detained since February 2017 on allegations she received protection money from jailed illegal drug lords while she was head of the Department of Justice.
However, De Lima has denied the allegations.
Sebastian’s body was immediately cremated following the health and safety protocols in handling COVID-19 deaths,’’ the Bureau of Corrections said.
Mr Guevarra said he has ordered an investigation into Sebastian’s death “to dispel any doubt” surrounding the circumstances amid speculation he could have been killed or his death staged to let him escape.
The Department of Health reported 1,521 additional confirmed coronavirus infections, bringing the national tally to 68,898.
The death toll was 1,835, with four additional deaths reported.