Immediately after the opening of the second regular session of the 18th Congress on July 27, the Senate will undertake a probe into the ’’mysterious deaths’’ of high-profile inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa city.
Senator Richard J. Gordon said he would wait for the formal referral to an appropriate committee of a resolution seeking a probe into the NBP mess after members of the Senate go back to the Upper House for their law-making and investigative duties.
After both legislative chambers have formally resumed regular session on Monday morning, the President is scheduled to deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the afternoon.
It could not be determined which of the two Senate committees will conduct the probe: Blue Ribbon committee or Justice and human rights committee. Gordon is chairman of the two committees.
In the meantime, the Senate is allowing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct its own investigation.
Another question that lingers is whether one or some of the high-profile inmates really died or there was a switch of bodies.
The DOJ is under the Executive branch, a co-equal of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Gordon said the death of about 19 inmates under highly suspicious circumstances should be investigated.
‘’Una lumabag sila sa protocols dahil dapat naireport sa DOJ, SC (Supreme Court) at DOH (Department of Health) kung may namatay at hindi basta-basta inilabas at crinemate,’’ Gordon said. (First, they violated protocols. They should have reported to the DOJ, SC and DOH if there are deaths. They should not have summarily brought out the bodies for cremation.)
The standing protocol is for the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to report to the DOJ and Supreme Court if there are deaths, particularly the high-profile prisoners.
Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, prison officials should have notified the DOH and brought to a hospital if they are sick,’’ Gordon pointed out.
‘’Kung namatay, dapat may pruweba. Maski nga raw death penalty may witness pag papatayin ang convict. Dito ni hindi nakita ng pamilya ang mga namatay nilang kaanak,’’ he explained. (If an inmate dies, there must be proof. There are witnesses even for those to be executed. The families of the dead high-profile inmates were not able to see their kin.)
Gordon said Bucor officials opened themselves up to administrative charges such as grave misconduct.
He intimated that prison officials had the gall not to follow protocols, particularly during the current health emergency situation.
Echoing the position of Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, Gordon said it is not proper to invoke the Data Privacy Act to ‘’hide’’ the identities of the dead inmates because they are already considered ‘’persons deprived of liberty’’ (PDLs).
‘’Wala silang privacy sa preso. Maliban na lang yung lawyer-client at yung conjugal visits,’’ he explained. (They do not have privacy at the prison facility except under a lawyer-client situation or during conjugal visits.)
Having investigated the BuCor for irregularities under the controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), Gordon said there is a pressing need to investigate BuCor again.
Under the GCTA, many drug lords and high-profile inmates lived like kings with TV sets, cell phones and even Jacuzzi and had a run of the prison facility, even managing the multi-billion-peso illegal drugs trade.
‘’Kaya di maiaalis sa isip ng mga tao ang duda na nagkaroon ng body-switching,’’ he pointed out. (That is why you cannot blame the people if they suspect there is body-switching.)
Gordon appeared to throw in the towel in resolving crimes.
‘’Yung kay Maria Ressa at ABS napakabilis daw nagawa, pero yung mga criminal cases walang naso-solve. Hihintayin daw niya kung anong sasabihih ng Pangulo ukol dito,’’ he said. (Government acted with speed in the Maria Ressa and the ABS-CBN cases, but there are no resolutions to many criminal cases. He said he would wait for the President’s comment on this incident.
Gordon maintained that BuCor officials should show the pictures, video and CCTV that the inmates were really confined.
He asked aloud why the high-profile inmates were not brought out of the prison facility to hospitals since they are financially well-off if they were really infected with COVID-19.
Gordon asked BuCor officials why there was no news about the inmates being infected with COVID-19 and why the public was belatedly informed of their deaths and cremation.