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DOJ tasks NBI to probe ‘suspicious’ deaths of high-profile NBP inmates

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Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to create an elite team to probe the deaths of eight high-profile inmates of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in 2020, purportedly due to COVID-19.

“I tasked NBI director Medardo de Lemos to form an elite team to look into this matter. This should be given priority because their deaths are very suspicious, so we need to find the real answers,” Remulla said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

The eight prisoners, also called “persons deprived of liberty” (PDLs) who reportedly died of COVID were identified as Francis Go, Shuli Zhang, Hung Kin Sing alias Jimmy Ang, Eugene Ho Chua, Benjamin Marcelo, Sherwin Sanchez, Amin Imam Boratong, and Willy Yang.

Sanchez was convicted of murder, while the seven others were found guilty of drug trafficking.

Remulla said he directed the NBI to get to the bottom of what really transpired inside the walls of the NBP in Muntinlupa City.

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“There is reportedly a witness who could attest that these inmates did not die of COVID-19… So we have asked the NBI to conduct a case build-up to know what really happened inside the NBP,” Remulla said.

The DOJ chief narrated that personnel from the Philippine National Police (PNP) manned the NBP’s Site Harry which was the facility’s COVID-19 Center.

The NBI conducted an earlier investigation and filed murder complaints before the DOJ against 22 personnel of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) who were reportedly assigned to the NBP at the time of the death of the eight prisoners.

Remulla pointed out on the “timing” of the filing of the complaints which happened “a few hours before I assumed” the position as Justice Secretary.

“We are looking at the papers and as my undersecretaries and staff were reviewing the documents, it appeared that it would not build a case to convict. It was going to build a case that would acquit,” he said.

Cited as respondents in the complaints were Maj. Lymel John Hayahay Pasquin; Staff Sergeants Rannel Tanjura Gadiano and Christian Aragon Mercarsos; Corporals Laurence Rallos Antiporta, Jhunben Oca Alegado, Jayson Lequin Anonuevo, Rosanie Mujeres Bernales, Michael Hellacone Boco, Rolex Margaja Borgonia, Jophy Tagmayon Buot, Gilwen Basallo Garcia, Edmar Ilustisimo Gerra, Archie Auman Grapa, Vernardo Vispo Into, Ener Perez Restauro, Banedy Taliporos Solante, Jernie Mata Tiongzon, and Jan Anthon Todulf Tabotabo Uy; and Patrolmen Roland Butch Pelostratus Duran, James Gemetiza Aninapon, and Rey Reponte Fernandez; and Dr. Beverly De Guzman.

Meanwhile, Remulla also revealed that he recently met with Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag and Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Rueda-Acosta.

The DOJ chief asked Bantag and Acosta to work together to immediately process the prison records of the NBP inmates with the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) and the  Parole and Probation Administration (PPA) in a bid to decongest the number of PDLs at the national penitentiary.

Remulla earlier vowed to create a digitalization infrastructure to decongest the already 330 percent overcrowded penal farms in the country, and provide a more humane environment for the prisoners.

The NBP alone was designed to accommodate 6,000 inmates, but it currently houses about 17,000 PDLs.

Nationwide, there are over 200,000 PDLs, Remulla said.

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