House panel probe on death of high-profile NBP inmates urged

A HOISE Leader on Thursday urged the House committee on justice to look into the reported deaths of convicted high-profile drug lords and other inmates at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP). 

In House Resolution (HR) 1090, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the Department of Justice (DoJ) confirmed last July 20 that nine inmates, including Jaybee Sebastian, a convicted kidnapper and car thief who served as a witness and co-accused in one of the drug cases against Sen. Leila de Lima, had died of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

Based on Sebastian’s death certificate, Rodriguez said the convict died of heart attack and COVID-19 was listed as among “other significant conditions contributing to death.”

He said two days before the DOJ confirmation, a list of Bilibid prisoners who reportedly succumbed to new coronavirus disease was “mysteriously circulated to journalists.”

Rodriguez, senior vice chairman of the House committee on justice, added that the list included Benjamin Marcelo, leader of Chinese convicts at Bilibid, Zhang Zhu Li, Jimmy Kin Sing Hung, Francis Go, Jimmy Yang, Eugene Chua, Ryan Ong, and Amin Imam Buratong.

He pointed out that when asked about the list, Bureau of Corrections spokesman Gabriel Chaclag released a statement of BuCor chief Gerald Bantag, who admitted there had been deaths but refused to identify the dead purportedly because that is prohibited by the Data Privacy Law.

However, National Privacy Commission Commissioner Mon Liboro subsequently declared that information about the inmates could be released since the convicts “had become public figures on account of their previous association with particular national issues in the past,” he said.

The Mindanao lawmaker noted reports that the Pantheon de Dasmariñas in Dasmariñas City, Cavite had cremated 28 bodies since May, including those of Sebastian, Marcelo, Zhang, and Hung; while the Manila North Cemetery cremated a body identified as Eugene Chua.

He also noted that BuCor, to prove that the inmates had indeed died, presented to the media on July 22 copies of the death certificates of Boratong, Chua, Go, Marcelo, Yang, Zhang, and Sherwin Sanchez, and a notice of death for Hung Kin Sing, also known as Jimmy Ang, with the documents showing that the deaths occurred in May and June.

“Because of the initial refusal of the BuCor to release the names of the inmates who died, speculations and other questions have been raised whether the deaths of high-profile inmates were faked or simulated,” Rodriguez said.

He said there were even reports of “body-switching, in which dead prisoners who are cremated due to Covid-19 are falsely identified so that high-profile inmates could go free.”

“There are too many questions and mysterious circumstances surrounding the ‘death’ of these inmates and there is a need to look further and
investigate the matter,” he stressed.