Sotto wants Senate probe on reported COVID-related deaths of inmates in NBP, BuCor jails
MANILA, Philippines (Updated) — With “too many unanswered questions,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III is seeking an investigation into the reported deaths of several inmates of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and other penal facilities under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) allegedly due to COVID-19.
“I’m filing a reso[lution] investigating the deaths in the NBP,” Sotto told reporters in a Viber message on Monday.
“Too many unanswered questions,” he added.
In filing Senate Resolution No. 468, Sotto cited the “alarming news” that at least nine high-profile inmates of the NBP in Muntinlupa City were reported to have died due to COVID-19.
Among these inmates is Jaybee Sebastian, who was the key witness in the Bilibid drug trade. These cases are now pending before three branches of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.
No autopsy was conducted. His body was immediately cremated at around 9 in the evening at a crematorium in Dasmariñas, Cavite.
The eight other inmates who reportedly died of COVID-19 were among the 66 occupants of Building 14, the most secured facility within NBP’s Maximum Security Compound and houses high-profile inmates, mostly convicted drug dealers.
“While BuCor chief Gerald Bantag has confirmed that there were persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who died due to COVID-19, he did not disclose their identities as it is, according to him, is prohibited under the Data Privacy Act,” Sotto said in his resolution.
The senator also cited a news article which quoted a high-ranking police official aware of the supposed COVID-19 deaths, as saying that “They [BuCor] could have just replaced the body. How would we know? There were no fingerprints.”
“[D]ue 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’s resolution further read.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has already ordered Bantag to explain the reported deaths at the penitentiary, particularly those of high-profile prisoners.
“Why no autopsies? Were relatives informed? Why was the [Department of Justice] not informed?” Sotto went on.
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