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Opinion

EDITORIAL - Deaths in the NBP

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Deaths in the NBP

Won’t controversies ever end at the national penitentiary? Armored vehicles and Special Action Force commandos have been fielded to curb illegal activities including drug trafficking operations of inmates in the New Bilibid Prisons. The rot in the NBP and its supervising agency the Bureau of Corrections, however, has often involved their own personnel.

BuCor officials and prison guards have been linked to rackets such as the grant of luxurious amenities and prolonged stays in private hospitals to moneyed inmates. Before the pandemic, there was the scandal over the early release of inmates based on good conduct time allowance.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the Department of Justice is looking into suspicions that the public health crisis might have opened opportunities for illegal activities in the corrections system. The DOJ has initiated a probe into the deaths of 21 inmates allegedly due to COVID-19, with 24 others suspected to have succumbed to the coronavirus.

Apart from checking the health conditions in the country’s main prison facility, the DOJ is looking into the intriguing detail that nine of the fatalities were high-value inmates linked to drug trafficking operated from the NBP. The most well known, Jaybee Sebastian, was a star witness in the case that put Sen. Leila de Lima behind bars without bail.

Because they were classified as COVID cases, the remains of Sebastian and those of the other fatalities were immediately cremated, according to BuCor officials. So it is now nearly impossible to determine the cause of death – unless someone emerges to contradict the story. With bodies supposedly reduced to ashes, it may even be difficult to determine if the prisoners are actually dead or, as even some lawmakers are speculating, whether they were simply allowed to walk to freedom.

Apart from the DOJ, the Senate is set to conduct a probe into this latest controversy. Will such a probe ferret out the truth? Considering the circumstances, senators face a daunting challenge.

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