The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has initiated its own investigation into the nearly three-hour fire that killed 10 inmates and destroyed the maximum security facility at the biggest penal colony in Eastern Visayas on Thursday.
The investigation will be made as authorities prioritized securing at least 1,000 inmates who were confined in the burned building and providing for their needs.
The 1,000 inmates are among the 3,000 inmates that the penal colony houses in the town of Abuyog, south of Tacloban City.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed that the prisons bureau is conducting an investigation separate from that being conducted by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
"But, of course, the priority now is how to secure and attend to the needs-food, clothing, medicine, shelter-of the approximately 1,000 affected inmates and, of course, to bury the dead inmates," she said.
De Lima said police and military forces have been deployed to beef up security at the penal colony, a 10-hectare facility built 42 years ago. The regional prison had survived Supertyphoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) when the strongest typhoon to hit land decimated much of Eastern Visayas in 2013.
Fire of still unknown cause hit the nine-cell maximum security building at the regional prison at 3:45 pm on Thursday.
The building housed 1,266 inmates who were padlocked, unlike prisoners of lighter offences in other buildings who were given time out of their cells for farming and other activities within the compound, BuCor spokesperson Msgr. Roberto Olaguer earlier said.
Local fire authorities are looking at faulty electrical wiring as among the possible causes of the fire. Officials earlier said the blaze could have been aggravated by the piles of wood at the building, which the inmates used for making income-generating crafts.
Among those who died in the blaze were inmates held at a section in the building for prisoners with mental health problems. Two elderly inmates were also killed.
Thursday's deadly fire was the second to hit the facility in two years: A blaze traced to faulty electrical wiring killed one inmate in 2013.
The head of the penal colony is asking the national government to act on his request to rehabilitate the 42-year-old facility to avoid another tragedy.
Supt. Gerardo Aro said he has been asking the BFP central office to repair the Leyte Regional Prison.
"I have been asking since 2013 for repairs on the building which is already old," said Aro.
His request has not been acted upon, he added.
Those who survived the three-hour inferno were placed in the minimum security facility about 700 meters from the burned building.
The facility, located in Barangay Mahagna, 20 kilometers from the town proper of Abuyog, was built in 1972.
During the fire, Aro said some inmates tried to escape.
"It's human instinct to escape. But no one escaped," he said.
Minutes after the fire broke out, local police and soldiers posted outside the facility quickly secured the area to prevent any escape.