Officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) should be held accountable for the deaths of high-profile inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said on Tuesday.
“We call for strict accountability beyond the investigations,” IBP President Domingo Egon Cayosa said.
“Unless erring prison officers are promptly removed, prosecuted, and put in jail, the sorry state of our prisons will continue or will even get worse,” he added.
Cayosa issued the statement after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to confirm that Bilibid inmate Jaybee Sebastian and eight other inmates convicted of illegal drugs charges have died from COVID-19.
“We support a thorough investigation of the many reported anomalies in our prisons, including the latest questioned deaths of high profile inmates due to COVID 19,” Cayosa said.
He also urged investigators “to check whether or not our prisons comply with the UN (United Nations) Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners and adequately achieves the objectives of deterrence, restraint, reformation, retribution, and restoration.”
“When prisoners are given unwarranted privileges, continue their illicit business from prison, or are surreptitiously and illegally freed, grave injustice is done to the victims, law enforcers, and lawyers (as prosecutor, defense counsel, or judge) who invested time, effort, and resources, even at great risk to their security, to put criminals in jail. The rule of law is subverted and the public is betrayed,” Cayosa said.
“A porous, inefficient, corrupt, and scandal-ridden prison system wipes out any remaining trust that citizens may have in our criminal justice system,” he added.
Cayosa also criticized Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag for using the Data Privacy Act as justification in refusing to disclose to the public the identities of high-profile inmates who died from COVID-19.
“The Data Privacy Law should not be misused to blur the accountability of public officers, thwart the constitutional right to information on matters of public concern, or disregard the personal interest of the victims and all those who labored to hold the guilty liable. Transparency should instead be promoted to help heal and disinfect our seriously ailing prison system,” he said.