MANILA: A mass funeral was held on Friday to bury the bodies of 70 inmates from the Philippines' largest prison, weeks after their decomposed remains were found at a Manila funeral home.
They were among 176 bodies discovered by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate suspected of participating in the murder of a journalist in early October.
Cecilia Villanueva, acting director of health and welfare services at the Bureau of Corrections, claimed that "natural causes" were responsible for most of the deaths.
One of them was a citizen of Japan. According to Villanueva, of the 140 bodies buried so far, 127 were severely decomposed and autopsies could not be performed.
After their families, most of whom were poor, failed to claim them, bodies began piling up at the funeral home in December 2021.
Villanueva attributed the inability of corrections staff to ensure that inmates received timely funerals for "constraints". To give family members time to collect the deceased, bodies are usually kept at an accredited funeral home for three months.
According to Villanueva, Friday's mass burial was the largest the Bureau of Corrections had ever seen.
70 plywood coffins were carried by minimum security inmates to their final resting places, which were low-cost concrete graves located inside the prison complex.
The troubled Bureau of Corrections, which oversees the nation's overcrowded prison system, has already been rocked by scandals before the terrifying discovery at a funeral home.
The head of the organization, Gerald Bantag, is accused of ordering the killing of radio host Percival Mbasa and Cristito Villamor Palana, who is accused of ordering the shooter to be killed.
A large pit was discovered inside the prison complex, next to Bantag's former official residence when he was removed as Director General.
Bantag claims that it was not a prisoner escape tunnel but a scuba diving tunnel. Raquel Fortun, one of the nation's two forensic pathologists, will conduct second examinations on eight bodies at the funeral home.
Villanueva claimed that at the 6,435-bed New Bilibid prison, which houses some 29,000 inmates, an average of one to two inmates die every day.
Although the Bureau of Corrections was attempting to hire more, there were only five doctors available to treat inmates. Villanueva said, "There are so many limitations, but we are doing everything we can to provide health care, the way health care is provided to the public.