MANILA - Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is not convinced by the death certificates of drug convicts who supposedly died due to the coronavirus disease and cremated inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Nine inmates at the NBP, including Chinese drug lords and high-profile convict Jaybee Sebastian, died due to COVID-19, Bureau of Correction officials earlier said.
Suspicions arose however after BuCor chief Gerald Bantag initially refused to confirm the death of the high-profile inmates, "wrongly" citing the National Privacy Act.
“I’ve yet to look at those details. But 'yung initial reaction instead of being transparent, nakita ko na they’re invoking laws that have nothing to do with the situation. Ang clamor naman natin is, ipakita mo na itong mga drug lords talaga ang na-cremate,” Gatchalian told reporters Thursday.
“Sa akin, paano itong mga drug lord sabay-sabay na namatay at crinemate na walang ebidensya, walang picture. Parang kaduda-duda naman,” he said.
With the remains of the inmates already cremated, there is no way for authorities to determine if the cadavers really belong to the said drug convicts.
Still, other proof like photos of the convicts’ cadavers, certificates, and CCTV footage should be presented to erase the public’s doubts about the reported deaths, Gatchalian said.
The senator emphasized that his doubt stems from Bantag’s failure to observe transparency regarding the death of the inmates.
Bantag used to be the jail warden of Valenzuela City and the senator, who was a former mayor of the city, said he knows the official as a real “no-nonsense guy" who really does his work "diligently".
“I’m quite disappointed na nangyari 'to. Dahil you can address your issues with COVID-19 and be transparent. Hindi naman 'yan magkahiwalay eh,” Gatchalian pointed out.
“Alam mo naman na itong mga high profile drug syndicates, controversial 'yan. So you have to practice extra transparency to know that you are doing the right thing.
"You can call the media, you can call the religious group...para alam ng taumbayan na talagang tama at...'yun talaga yung mga namatay,” he said.
Gatchalian said Bantag should welcome investigations into the controversy to prove that there’s really nothing irregular about the inmates' deaths.
Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, said Bantag may be sacked from his post as he only made the report two months since the inmates died allegedly due to COVID-19.
"Malaking kasalanan talaga 'yan. I am very disappointed in him. Kung talagang namatay o hindi, lumaya o hindi, dapat ni-report," Gordon told reporters in an online press briefing.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said Bantag should not keep his post anymore after initially refusing to confirm the death of high-profile inmates at the national penitentiary.
"Nobody is taking his word for it. It enhances the suspicion of our people that something is amiss, something is not right, something is being hidden. Therefore, such action should not merit his continued stay in the BuCor," Drilon told ANC.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the COVID-19 situation in the country's prisons, and the reported deaths of the inmates.
--With a report from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News