COVID-19 kills 9 high-profile inmates
MANILA, Philippines — At least nine high-profile inmates of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, mostly convicted drug lords, were reported to have died due to COVID-19, including Jaybee Sebastian, a co-respondent in the drug trafficking cases filed against Sen. Leila de Lima.
According to his death certificate, Sebastian, 40, died of acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, while at NBP Hospital at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday. COVID-19 was listed under “other significant conditions contributing to death.”
Sebastian was on a list of high-profile NBP prisoners who reportedly died of COVID-19.
The list, which was anonymously distributed to journalists late Saturday, included Benjamin Marcelo, leader of Chinese inmates at NBP; Zhang Zhu Li, Jimmy Kinsing Hung, Francis Go, Jimmy Yang, Eugene Chua, Ryan Ong and Amin Imam Buratong, convicted operator of the shabu tiangge in Pasig City in 2009.
The Inquirer asked Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag to verify the list, but Chaclag instead sent a statement of BuCor chief Gerald Bantag, who admitted there had been deaths due to COVID-19 but declined to identify the fatalities purportedly because of the data privacy law.
But the Panteon de Dasmariñas Public Cemetery in Dasmariñas, Cavite, logged Sebastian, Marcelo, Zhang and Hung as among the 28 bodies they had cremated since May 31. The Manila North Cemetery also reported having cremated a body identified as Eugene Chua.
No autopsies were conducted on the bodies cremated at the Panteon de Dasmariñas, according to Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga.
Barzaga said the BuCor paid Dasmariñas City P15,000 for each deceased prisoner “but our people [at the crematorium] were not to open the body bags anymore. So long as there were death certificates and the proper papers, the bodies were cremated straight away.”
But a ranking police official, who was aware of the supposed COVID-19 deaths, said “higher ups” had asked several police officials to “gather intelligence” on the deaths at the state penitentiary and watch particularly for possible “body-switching.”
“They could have just replaced the body [with another inmate and declared the death of a high-profile inmate]. How would we know? There were no more fingerprints,” the official said, declining to disclose details of his investigation. Justice Secretary Menardo Gueverra, on the other hand, ordered Bantag to explain the alleged deaths at the penitentiary, particularly those of high-profile prisoners, at his office on July 20.
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