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Opinion

Swashbuckling prisons chief

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

Flamboyant Gerald Bantag, director-general of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), thought he could discipline the guards and inmates at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP).

Bantag was a sight to behold when he took over the reins of BuCor; he lugged two samurai swords and an Uzi machine pistol when he met with NBP guards in front of 28,500 inmates.

He said he would behead guards who fraternized with their wards and prisoners who would try to escape.

Bantag came from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and brought with him some of his ferocious-looking subordinates from the Parañaque City Jail.

At the Parañaque jail, Bantag’s claim to fame was that he supposedly survived a grenade explosion inside his office that killed ten inmates, most of them facing drug-related charges. He allegedly survived by hiding behind an iron shield used by SWAT policemen in raids.

Of course, most people believed Bantag’s survival alibi.

Filipinos swallow hook, line and sinker anything fed to them by movies, television and social media. We all remember that idiotic scene in a Filipino “cowboy” movie, where a bullet shot from the principal character’s revolver split in two after hitting the sharp edge of a knife, killing two of the main character’s opponents.

Incidentally, the principal actor in that movie is now a big-time politician due to the Filipino’s gullibility; a Pinoy can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

When Bantag took over the reins of BuCor during the previous administration, Filipinos were awed by his display of bravado.

We thought Bantag would be able to put a stop to the smuggling of cellphones, guns, other deadly weapons and other prohibited items – like drugs and liquor – into the NBP.

I personally admit I was also had by his display of theatrics, thinking it was for real.

But alas and alack! The national prisons chief, a graduate of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), has been unmasked as just being full of hot air.

His subordinates, as well as the NBP inmates, were making a fool of him.

Otherwise, how could an inmate inside the supposedly most secure prison in the country become a middleman between a mastermind and a triggerman if there were no cellphones?

Unless...

The latest news about the assassination of hard-hitting radio commentator Percival Mabasa, a.k.a. Percy Lapid, points to Bantag as one of 160 “persons of interest,” a euphemism for suspects.

In at least three of his commentaries, Lapid called out Bantag for allegedly building a mansion on a salary of a government functionary.

In short, there was a motive for Bantag to want to have Lapid silenced.

Bantag, however, denies the broadcaster’s allegation, saying, “My house is still a plan. My current house is so small I hit my head whenever I go up to the attic.”

The prison chief also denies Lapid’s allegation that he had eleven vehicles lined up along the street in an exclusive subdivision in Laguna.

There are rumors – albeit unfounded – that officials and rank-and-file employees of the BJMP, where Bantag is “borrowed” from, enrich themselves on bribes from their detainees. The money is allegedly given in exchange for certain privileges, such as being separated from fellow detainees or allowing their visitors to stay longer than the prescribed time. And worse, being allowed to bring in illicit drugs.

So, Bantag’s claim that he was offered a P100-million “gift” by wealthy NBP inmates when he took over could be true; the question is whether he accepted it or not.

*      *      *

It’s only right that the appointment of former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Camilo Cascolan as undersecretary of the Department of Health has raised howls of protest.

Cascolan, probably the shortest-serving PNP chief – two months on the job – is a square peg in a round hole.

Firstly, he was never a medical worker.

Cascolan has management skills, according to Sen. Ronald “Bato,” a former PNP chief himself.

Really? It’s a case of an incompetent lauding another incompetent.

The reason for Cascolan’s appointment as PNP chief by president Digong Duterte was accommodation. Cascolan was assigned to Davao City when Digong was mayor.

Some PNP officers and staff members describe Cascolan as magjue-jueteng, one who engages in jueteng, and “sabungero,” a sabong or cockfight aficionado.

I don’t know about him being magju-jueteng, but many people know that when he was PNP chief, Cascolan made use of his power to get a franchise for online cockfighting.

Online sabong or cockfighting has since been banned because of the pernicious effects it had on the country’s moral fiber, particularly on the youth.

If Cascolan made use of his power as PNP chief to acquire an e-sabong franchise, there’s no telling how he will use his power as health undersecretary. Who knows?

Anyway, a wag posted this funny quip on Facebook:

“BBM names Vergeire as new PNP chief.”

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire is the acting health secretary. BBM is a nickname of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

*      *      *

I’m sure Cascolan will not be like a certain health undersecretary during the Noynoy Aquino administration, who wet his pants when a gun was pointed at his head by a contractor.

Of course, if that happens to him, Cascolan will fight back, as he’s a former cop and not easily scared.

The health undersecretary referred to allegedly double-crossed the irate contractor, who was promised a DOH contract after he paid off the health official with a handsome amount.

And I’m sure Cascolan will not accept a bribe as health undersecretary, because money is flowing out of his ears due to once holding a franchise for online cockfighting.

BUCOR

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