Solons from the House of Representatives on Tuesday called for a thorough investigation into the reported death of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) supposedly due to COVID-19.
In a statement, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate has raised suspicion over the deaths of nine drug lords at the NBP all supposedly due to COVID-19, including Jaybee Sebastian, who was convicted of kidnapping for ransom back in 2009.
No autopsy was done on the body, and his remains were cremated in a crematorium in Cavite.
“Is it mere coincidence that major drug lords just supposedly died at around the same time of COVID-19 with no autopsy nor witnesses to prove that they really died because their bodies were supposedly cremated immediately?” Zarate said.
“Add to these that just last year, paying for early release of heinous crimes convicts hit the headlines as well as the fact that faking one’s death is a thriving industry in the country as stated by a United Kingdom newspaper the Telegraph reported,” he added.
Zarate said that according to that report, travellers could purchase “death kits” made up of documents supposedly to prove one’s death.
The process involves buying an unclaimed corpse from one of the many morgues in the Philippines, he added.
“Some people have faked deaths to evade prison sentences,” Zarate quoted the Telegraph article as saying.
Zarate asserted that in the name of transparency and accountability, the cause of death of these high-profile and controversial inmates should be fully established beyond what jail officials or crematorium personnel say, especially in the middle of a pandemic and the previous controversies hounding the country’s penal system.
“Among others, it has to be ruled out that the COVID-19 pandemic is not taken advantage of in the commission of pseudocide, while the real inmate getting out of prison and again ply their illegal trade outside under a new identity,” he said.
For her part, ACT-CIS party-list Representative Niña Taduran demanded full transparency on the reported COVID-19 related deaths in the NBP.
She said a congressional inquiry should be called to investigate the deaths, and the Data Privacy Act should be used an excuse for not disclosing the relevant details regarding the issue.
“All avenues must be explored in the interest of transparency. It is alarming that high-profile inmates have been dying allegedly due to COVID-19 since May and we have been kept in the dark until a newspaper reported Jaybee Sebastian’s death and cremation,” Taduran said.
“It is a matter of national interest that’s why we are calling for transparency. The concerned agencies must present fool-proof evidence regarding the death of a high profile inmate and others,” she added.
A total of 21 inmates from the national penitentiary who tested positive for COVID-19 have already died since March, Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag confirmed to the Department of Justice on Monday.
BuCor officials refused to identify most of those who have died citing data privacy.
Earlier Tuesday, Bantag lamented that some high public officials are speculating on the deaths of high profile NBP inmates.
“Itong matataas na tao, nagsasalita ng mga ganyan ay huwag naman sanang bigyan ng pagdududa ‘yung mga publiko. Hindi naman ito basta-bastang kaso,” Bantag said.
“Dapat nagtitiwala sila sa inilagay na tauhan ng gobyerno,” he added.