Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Sunday said he has summoned Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag on Monday, July 20, to report on the alleged deaths of prisoners, particularly high-profile inmates at the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
Published reports stated that inmate Jaybee Nino Sebastian, the principal witness against detained Sen. Leila de Lima in one of her illegal drugs trading cases pending with the Muntinlupa City regional trial court, died last Saturday and his body was allegedly cremated in a Cavite crematorium hours after his death.
Cause of his death was reportedly due to acute myocardial infarction related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Sebastian, who is convicted of kidnapping-for-ransom and carjacking in 2009, is also one of De Lima’s co-accused in one of the criminal cases.
Guevarra, however, did not confirm Sebastian’s death.
“We have summoned Director General Bantag to the DOJ (Department of Justice) tomorrow (Monday, July 20). We’ll find out what is really happening at the NBP,” Guevarra said in a text message to journalists.
He said he will discuss with Bantag about the reported recent deaths at the NBP whether COVID-19 related or otherwise.
“We are looking at several theories. I expect that there are existing protocols whenever deaths occur inside the prisons… and I will ask Director General Bantag to explain all protocols,” he added.
Neither BuCor officials confirmed Sebastian’s death. They claimed they are prohibited from reporting deaths of inmates by the Data Privacy Act.
But BuCor Spokesperson Col. Gabriel Chaclag noted that there were persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who passed away due to COVID-19.
“However, as much as we want to inform the public with respect to the names of PDLs who died due to COVID-19, the Data Privacy Act prohibits us from doing so,” Chaclag said.
“Rest assured that the BuCor is doing its best to address this pandemic. In fact, we have a high rate of recovery and we are glad to report to the public that all our interventions appear to be doing well and effective,” he said.
He also said that BuCor has been doing quick identification, isolation and treatment programs which have greatly mitigated the risks brought about by COVID-19.
Last July 15, the DOJ reported that BuCor has not logged any new case of COVID-19 infection in all its penal farms and colonies since July 1.
It said that since March when BuCor’s monitoring started, there were 343 confirmed cases, 18 deaths, and 325 recoveries.