Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday said he would initiate a Senate investigation on the deaths of 19 inmates in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) supposedly due to COVID-19.
“Why no autopsies? Were relatives informed? Why was the DOJ not informed?” he added.
Sotto earlier said several high-profile inmates allegedly died due to COVID-19 last month.
He, however, questioned why authorities did not immediately divulge the report.
“I’m filing a reso looking into the matter. There are too many unanswered questions,” Sotto said.
Senate Committee on Health chair Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go backed Sotto’s proposal, saying the government is also responsible for the health and welfare of persons deprived of liberty.
“Kailangang mabigyang linaw kung ano ang naging sanhi ng pagkamatay at kung may pagkukulang ba ang mga otoridad sa pangyayaring ito (We have to clarify what was the cause of their death and if authorities were negligent.),” Go said in a statement.
Among those who allegedly succumbed to COVID-19 is Jaybee Sebastian, who testified against detained Sen. Leila de Lima on her supposed involvement in the drug operations inside the national penitentiary.
While the Data Privacy Act protects those who died of COVID-19 from being identified to spare their families from discrimination, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that senators can inquire about the issue through an executive session.
“We as legislators can ask relevant questions, especially in an executive session,” Lacson said in a statement.
But Lacson said he would “rather focus on more pressing matters than be distracted by the deaths of drug convicts.”
These inmates have “shown no remorse” for their crimes as they continued their drug operations inside the NBP, Lacson said.
“Unless there is very compelling reason to suspect any foul play – and as of now, there is none – personally, I’d rather focus on more pressing matters,” he said.
Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who served as Bureau of Corrections chief before being elected as lawmaker, said there is no basis for the investigation.
“Wala namang sinasanto ang COVID kahit na yung British Prime Minister tinamaan din (COVID does not spare anyone. Even the British Prime Minister was infected.),” he said, referring to United Kingdom leader Boris Johnson.
“So far, wala pa akong nakikitang basehan (So far, I see no basis for the investigation.),” said Dela Rosa./Stacy Ang