Nine prisoners die as fire engulfs Leyte jail ward

NINE prisoners were killed when fire ripped through the psychiatric ward of a jail on Leyte island, authorities said  Friday, adding the facility was operating at more than double its capacity.

Wardens as well as inmates scrambled to save prisoners from their cells  Thursday  as the blaze struck the maximum security section of the regional prison, the Justice Department said.

Most of the dead were being held in a special section for inmates with psychological issues or physical infirmities, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

Leila de Lima

“Five inmates were patients at the psychiatric ward [and] two inmates were weak, old and [had] eye problems,” De Lima added, citing a Bureau of Corrections report on the incident.

“Two inmates were farm workers who initially were already safe but went back inside to help other inmates,” she added.

A tenth inmate remained unaccounted for, she said.

The fire raged for nearly eight hours, gutting one prison building, and was finally brought under control around  midnight, said Insp. Constantino Pedrosa, deputy police chief of Abuyog town where the prison was located.

He said the facility was built for 500 inmates, but held 1,256 men at the time of the blaze, a common occurrence in the country’s overcrowded prison system.

He could not say how many were being housed in the burnt-out building, which he said was assigned to prisoners convicted of murder and other serious crimes.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, Pedrosa said.

The Abuyog Penal Colony is one of the seven operating units under the Bureau of Corrections.

Other operating units include the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City, the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro, the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City and the Davao Prison and Penal Farm. The bureau is an attached agency of the Justice Department.

A spokesman for the bureau, Bobby Olaguer, said Assistant Director Martin Perfecto was already in Leyte to see the situation on the ground. With AFP

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