DOJ orders probe into high-profile inmates' deaths as BuCor confirms Jaybee Sebastian died of COVID-19
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra meets with Undersecretary Deo Marco and Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag on July 20, 2020 to discuss the deaths of high-profile inmates due to COVID-19.
Department of Justice/released
DOJ orders probe into high-profile inmates' deaths as BuCor confirms Jaybee Sebastian died of COVID-19
Kristine Joy Patag ( - July 20, 2020 - 6:06pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice on Monday confirmed that high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian, also a witness in the drug case against Sen. Leila de Lima, died due to COVID-19.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra summoned Bureau of Corrections Director General Gerald Bantag to his office after reports that nine high-profile inmates, including Sebastian, had died due to COVID-19.

“As to [Sebastian], yes, BuCor has confirmed that he was cremated,” DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete said. This was in compliance with the bureau's protocol on deaths due to COVID-19.

DOJ also said that Bantag informed Guevarra that they follow protocol that when an inmate dies due to COVID-19, the conduct “mandatory cremation of the cadaver within 12 hours to prevent further spread of infection.”

Sebastian was a convicted car thief, and was accused of involvement in the drug trade while inside the national penitentiary. He was also one of the witnesses in the drug case against Sen. Leila De Lima.

Media reported on Sunday that Sebastian’s death certificate showed that he died of acute myocardial infarction, related to COVID-19, at the New Bilibid Prison Hospital last week. There was no autopsy and his remains were immediately cremated.

DOJ to verify deaths of eight other high-profile inmates

DOJ also said Bantag confirmed that 21 inmates died due to the coronavirus since March, meanwhile five inmates remain in isolation at "Site Harry".

Perete however explained that it would be premature, as of now, to confirm the deaths of the eight other high-profile inmates as they wait for BuCor to provide their death certificates.

“Until such documents are presented, it may be premature to confirm their deaths, much less the cause thereof,” he added.

Perete assured that DOJ will release the names of the other eight “subject to data privacy conditions where applicable.”

DOJ said Guevarra is set to order the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe. “In any case, to dispel any doubt regarding the death of PDL Sebastian and eight others, DG Bantag welcomed an independent investigation on the matter,” the statement read.

Senate probe also pushed

News5 also reported that Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III filed a resolution seeking a legislative inquiry into the deaths of Bilibid inmates supposedly due to COVID-19.

“Due to unclear, inaccurate and unverified reports, speculations are now being made as to whether or not these NBP inmates actually died due to COVID-19 disease,” the Senate leader said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson also said that while BuCor cited the Data Privacy Act in declining comment on Sebastian’s death, lawmakers in a legislative probe may be able to delve deeper into the issue.

 “The Data Privacy Act may actually be applicable in the case of Jaybee Sebastian and other high value PDLs who reportedly succumbed to COVID-19—although in an inquiry in aid of legislation, we as legislators can ask relevant questions, especially in an executive session,” he said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon however countered Bantag and said the latter was wrong to invoke the Data Privacy Act since a “death certificate is in fact a public document required to be filed upon any person’s death.”

In a statement, Drilon, also a former DOJ chief, asserted that death of a person is not sensitive information. “The fact that a person is dead is not contemplated by the law,” he said.

“What we are asking for is information on who are dead. That is factual,” he added.

Lacson however said unless foul play is suspected, he would rather focus on other pressing matters than be “distracted” by the deaths of drug convicts “who had shown no remorse at all by continuing their drug operations” inside NBP.

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