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Gordon pitches for bill requiring transparency in jail deaths

/ 05:57 PM December 09, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Richard Gordon is pushing for the passage of a Senate measure mandating transparency in jail deaths in the wake of the recent death inside prison of a high-profile inmate.

Gordon, who chairs the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee, urged the approval of Senate Bill No. 1771, also known as the Death in Custody Reporting Bill, after the death of former policeman Jonel Nuezca while inside the New Bilibid Prison compound for unknown causes.

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Nuezca was convicted of murder last August for killing a mother and son in Tarlac province after a heated argument.

His death became the subject of scrutiny by human rights groups, as Nuezca’s burial was kept private from the public, including media.

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“The late reporting of these deaths, suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths and the identity of these high-profile inmates shocked the nation and questions regarding the truthfulness and veracity of these reports regarding the circumstances of the deaths of the inmates have been questioned,” Gordon said in his bill.

“The Filipino people have the right to know what really happened with these inmates. The people felt cheated. Justice was cheated. We cannot let this happen again,” he said.

The bill calls for mandating the accurate reporting of deaths and illnesses of inmates and detained children.

SB 1771 seeks the monthly filing of reports on prisoners convicted of heinous crimes and serving life sentences to three departments—justice, interior and social welfare—the Supreme Court and Commission on Human Rights.

The National Bureau of Investigation is also mandated to launch an investigation if an inmate or a child in detention died of unexplained circumstances and gather evidence to show cause of death.

Failure to report prison deaths is punishable by six to 12 years in jail on top of a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1 million.

False reporting, or allowing a prisoner or child in detention to escape, will be meted with the same penalties.

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Gordon cited an investigative media report showing that an average of 50 to 60 prisoners had died while serving their sentences inside the NBP from October 2019 to April 2020.

In 2020, at least nine high-profile inmates at the NBP purportedly died due to COVID-19, including Jaybee Sebastian, who was convicted of kidnapping for ransom and carjacking and one of the inmates tapped as witnesses in the drug cases filed against Sen. Leila de Lima.

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TAGS: Death in Custody Reporting Bill, Jonel Nuezca, New Bilibid Prison, Richard Gordon
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