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NBI probes Bilibid COVID-19 deaths

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the deaths of eight high-value inmates of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) who reportedly succumbed to COVID-19 in 2020.

Remulla directed NBI chief Medardo de Lemos to form a team to probe the deaths.

“This should be given priority because their deaths were suspicious. We need to find the real answers,” Remulla said. “We need to get to the bottom of what really transpired inside the NBP walls.”

The eight convicts who reportedly died of COVID-19 were Francis Go, Shuli Zhang, Jimmy Ang, Eugene Ho Chua, Benjamin Marcelo, Sherwin Sanchez, Amin Imam Boratong and Willy Yang.

Sanchez was convicted of murder. The other inmates were convicted of drug trafficking.

“There is reportedly a witness who can attest that these inmates did not die of COVID-19,” Remulla said.

He instructed the NBI to conduct a case buildup to determine the cause of deaths of the inmates.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), personnel of the Philippine National Police manned the NBP Site Harry, which serves as the national penitentiary’s COVID-19 center.

Last July, the NBI filed murder charges before the DOJ against 22 officers of the National Capital Region Police Office allegedly assigned in Bilibid at the time of the death of the inmates.

Remulla noted the “timing” of the filing of the complaints against the police, which happened “a few hours before I assumed” the DOJ post.

“My undersecretaries are reviewing the documents. It appeared that it would not build a case to convict. It was going to build a case for acquital,” he said.

Meanwhile, the DOJ will work with the Bureau of Corrections and Public Attorney’s Office to process the “karpeta” or prison records of inmates with the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Remulla said the move aims to decongest not only the NBP but also other penal farms and provide a more “humane environment” for inmates.

To date, at least 17,000 inmates are serving time at the NBP, which can accommodate only 6,000 people.

Remulla said he is eyeing to tap international criminal justice expert Raymund Narag as administrator of the Parole and Probation Administration to decongest the country’s jails.

Narag is a professor of criminal justice in the United States.

NBP

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