EDITORIAL - Dignity in death

The Philippine Star

Considering all the heinous activities being unearthed in the Bureau of Corrections and the New Bilibid Prison, foul play cannot be ruled out in the deaths of some of the 166 NBP inmates whose cadavers have been stored in a funeral home since December last year.

Whatever the circumstances, the BuCor and its mother agency the Department of Justice will have to draw up clear protocols for the handling of inmates who die in state custody. As forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun has pointed out, an autopsy must be conducted as soon as possible after death and before embalming, even if there is no visible external injury.

The importance of adherence to this protocol is highlighted by the result of her autopsy on NBP prisoner Cristito “Jun” Villamor Palaña, the alleged middleman in the murder of broadcaster Percy Lapid. Although Palaña’s body was immediately sent by the BuCor to the funeral home where it was embalmed before an autopsy was conducted, Fortun managed to determine that the death was due to asphyxia from a plastic bag placed over Palaña’s head. Palaña was murdered in the NBP on the same day that self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial was presented to the media by police.

Is it normal to have 166 inmates dying within a year in the NBP? The 166 do not include inmates who died ostensibly due to COVID, whose bodies were immediately sent to the crematorium by BuCor officials. Last July, the National Bureau of Investigation filed murder charges against 22 members of the National Capital Region Police Office who were assigned to the BuCor when eight high-value NBP prisoners died allegedly due to COVID between May and July 2020. The inmates, whose remains were immediately cremated without autopsy, included Jaybee Sebastian and Amin Imam Boratong.

Of the 166 cadavers that have piled up at the BuCor-accredited Eastern Funeral Services in Muntinlupa, only 50 are still suitable for autopsy, according to Fortun; the rest have shriveled up like mummies. Official BuCor reports attributed the deaths mostly to illness or natural causes. One was listed as a suicide.

It was determined that several of the cadavers could not be claimed by relatives who could not afford the cost of transporting the remains from Metro Manila to the provinces. Relatives of some of the deceased also could no longer be located. The sister of one of the dead, meanwhile, lamented that their family did not even know that her brother was serving time in prison.

Even if there is no foul play involved, certain protocols must be followed. Some of the deceased prisoners might not have experienced it in life, but at least in death, every person deserves respect and dignity.


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