Sotto wants to probe deaths of Bilibid inmates

Published July 20, 2020, 2:59 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Monday July 20, that he will push for a legislative inquiry on the alleged COVID-19-related deaths in the New Bilibid Prison.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“I’m filing a reso[lution investigating the deaths in the NBP. [There are] too many unanswered questions,” Sotto told reporters on Viber.

The Senate leader expressed apparent doubts on the deaths of at least 19 inmates in the national penitentiary, including high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian who was cremated last Saturday after reportedly succumbing to complications caused by the novel coronavirus disease.

“Why no autopsies? Were relatives informed? Why was the DOJ not informed? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” he said.

Sebastian, a convicted kidnapper and carnapper, was a witness and co-accused in one of the drug charges filed against detained Sen. Leila de Lima before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court.

Reports about Sebastian’s death broke out on Saturday but authorities were only able to confirm the information until after an officer of the crematorium in Dasmarinas City, Cavite told media that the inmate was indeed cremated.

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag said in his statement that other inmates in the NBP died from COVID-19, but invoked the Data Privacy Act in withholding the identities of the deceased.

In the copy of the Resolution No. 468 filed by Sotto later, he described as “alarming” the reports about the prisoners, who are mostly convicted drug lords and were detained in a highly secured facility inside the NBP.

He also mentioned the reported claim of Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga, who said that no autopsies were conducted and that the BuCor paid Dasmarinas City P15,000 for each body while instructing the crematorium not to open the body bags anymore.

Sotto likewise cited a report quoting a police official who raised the possibility that the BuCor may just have declared the death of high-profile inmates using the bodies of other prisoners.

“Due to unclear, inaccurate and unverified reports, speculations are now being made as to whether or not these NBP inmates actually died due to COVID-19,” Sotto said.

The resolution also included in the probe the deaths of other persons deprived of liberty in other penal facilities under the BuCor.

Bantag was summoned by Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra Monday to brief him about the deaths of the high-profile prisoners.

Sotto said the Senate inquiry could be conducted after Congress resumes session on July 27.