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DOJ probes Bilibid deaths

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Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag has been summoned to report to the Department of Justice purportedly to shed light on the reported death of high profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian due to COVID-19 inside the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City.

Jaybee Sebastian

“We have summoned Director General Bantag to the DOJ tomorrow. We’ll find out what is really happening at the NBP,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

Sebastian reportedly died last Saturday after which his body was immediately cremated, unconfirmed reports said.

These reports said Sebastian was taken to a COVID-19 facility inside the New Bilibid Prison after showing symptoms of the virus. No autopsy was conducted before he was cremated.

Guevarra said he would discuss recent deaths at the NBP, COVID-19-related or otherwise, with Bantag but did not confirm reports of Sebastian's death.

Sebastian was a state witness who accused detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima of conspiring with him and other drug convicts during her term as Justice secretary to use drug money to raise campaign funds for her 2016 senatorial bid.

READ: Sebastian: I gave drug money to De Lima

Sebastian, who was convicted of kidnapping-for-ransom and carjacking in 2009, is one of De Lima’s co-accused in one of the criminal cases filed against the senator before the regional trial court in Muntinlupa City, in connection with the illegal drug activities inside NBP.

READ: De Lima belies Jaybee testimony

Even the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) refused to confirm Sebastian’s death, saying they are prohibited from disclosing such information under the Data Privacy Act.

Nonetheless, BuCor spokesman Col. Gabriel Chaclag admitted that there were prisoners who passed away due to COVID-19.

“However, as much as we want to inform the public with respect to the names of [those] who died due to COVID-19, the data privacy act prohibits us from doing so,” Chaclag said.

He said the bureau has been doing quick identification, isolation and treatment programs that have greatly mitigated the risks brought about by the Covid19 virus.

Gerald Bantag

The DOJ reported July 15 that the BuCor has not logged any new case of COVID-19 infection in all its penal farms and colonies since July 1.

Its last count places the total confirmed cases all throughout the BuCor – gathered since the start of its monitoring in March – at 343 confirmed cases, 18 deaths, and so far, 323 recoveries.

Of the 18 recorded deaths, 15 were from the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) and three were from the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW).

The NBP and CIW are the only penal farms and colonies managed by BuCor that logged cases of infection while the remaining five reported no cases of Covid19 all throughout the monitoring period.

Visitation privileges remain suspended.

READ: De Lima linked to threats on high-profile inmate


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