January 29, 2023

Juan Kabayan

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BuCor probes killing of Bilibid inmate

(UPDATE) A FULL-BLOWN investigation into allegations that a high-profile inmate at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) was killed and did not die of Covid-19 in 2020 is underway.

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Officer in Charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. confirmed on Thursday that the person deprived of liberty (PDL) who provided the information is now under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

“The NBI is now the lead agency in that investigation, we have passed it on to them, we are the only ones who provided the PDL who wants to speak about the issue,” Catapang told The Juan Kabayan.

He said the PDL, identified as Rodel Tiaga, was picked up by NBI personnel at the NBP Tuesday.

“The investigation is ongoing to determine if there is a basis for the allegations made by the PDL,” said Catapang.

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The high-profile inmate who was identified by Tiaga as having died not because of Covid-19 was convicted drug lord Eugene Chua.

Tiaga claimed that Chua, who was said to have died of cardiopulmonary arrest due to Covid-19 in June 2020, died of suffocation when a plastic bag was put over his head.

The PDL said the convicted drug lord was killed inside Site Harry, an isolation area at the NBP where Covid-positive inmates are taken.

He added that he and other inmates witnessed the killing of Chua.

“He claimed that he was there and he saw what actually happened to Chua,” Catapang said.

“The NBI will determine the identities of those behind the alleged killing of Chua, while [BuCor] will provide the credible witnesses,” he said.

Catapang added they are also now trying to determine if other high-profile inmates who were reported to have died due to Covid-related illnesses in 2020 were also killed.

Apart from Chua, some of the high-profile PDLs who died supposedly of Covid-19 were Jaybee Sebastian, Francis Go, Willy Yang, Benjamin Marcelo, Zhang Zhu Li, Jimmy Kinsing Hung, Ryan Ong and Amin Boratong.

They died just a few days apart from May 28, 2020, to June 17, 2020.

Initial investigation showed that a significant amount of time elapsed before the victims were brought to the nearest hospital and were declared dead on arrival, with the cause of death either cardiac or pulmonary arrest.

“We are really bent on determining if there is truth to these allegations, and we hope other PDLs will surface and provide additional and corroborative information about this,” Catapang said.

The BuCor will also provide the NBI with the identities of the doctors who conducted the autopsies and authorized the cremation of the remains of the high-profile inmates who supposedly died of Covid-19.

“That’s another lead we’re following. How come these people were cremated? What’s the basis? Who signed the documents saying these people died of Covid-19 and should be cremated immediately?” Catapang said.

A separate investigation on alleged human rights violations in other prisons and penal colonies will be held.

“There are [inmates] who say that their human rights were violated. We are building up the data and statements of the victims,” Catapang said. “In due time, once these allegations are substantiated, we will pass the investigation to the NBI.”

Inmates have come out to disclose their experiences following the suspension of BuCor Director-General Gerald Bantag, who was implicated in the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and Cristito Villamor Palaña.

“They want to speak because of the bad things that happened during the previous [BuCor] administration; they want justice to be done. That’s the bottom line,” Catapang said.