MANILA — Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra has summoned Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and the latter is expected to explain and confirm to him today, Monday (20 July 2020) on Jaybee Sebastian’s alleged demise of Covid-19 along with other high-profile coronavirus deaths inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
“I have summoned BuCor DG (Director General) Bantag to my office tomorrow (today, Monday). We’ll find out,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters when asked about the deaths.
Bantag also sent out his own text messages telling reporters that while there were convicts who have died due to COVID-19, the Data Privacy Act “prohibits” the BuCor from naming them in public.
And this effectively and conveniently excuses Bantag from confirming whether high-profile convict Jaybee Sebastian had really died or not of the coronavirus disease inside the Bilibid, along with at least 8 other prisoners, as reported by media on Sunday morning.
Ironically, the reported deaths come just a week after the DOJ said NBP and BuCor were COVID-free and that beats the 14-day incubation period of the virus as claimed by health experts.
It may be recalled that Sebastian was one of the chief accusers of detained Senator Leila de Lima in October 2016.
In a House hearing, Sebastian tagged De Lima as an alleged protector of illegal drug operations at the national penitentiary when she was DOJ secretary.
But De Lima’s defense team was quick to counter as it claimed accused Sebastian may have been “pressured” by authorities to accuse her of drug-related crimes.
Reports have it that Sebastian died last Saturday due to COVID-19 after he was allegedly taken to Site Harry, which is a COVID-19 facility inside the New Bilibid Prison, after showing symptoms of the virus.
An autopsy was never conducted the online newspaper said but it reported further that Sebastian’s body was immediately cremated at around 9 in the evening at a crematorium in Dasmariñas, Cavite.
Aside from being a key witness in the illegal drug trade, Sebastian, was convicted of kidnapping-for-ransom and carjacking in 2009.
Last Wednesday, (15 July 2020), the DOJ reported that out of 343 COVID-19 cases at the NBP and the Correctional Institution for Women, a total of 18 inmates died and 323 have recovered.
Pressed to confirm whether there were third-party eyewitnesses when an inmate is cremated to confirm the inmate’s identity – to avoid speculation that the death is a coverup to let the inmate escape – Guevarra only said he would ask Bantag to explain all BuCor protocols during the meeting.
“We are looking at several theories. I expect that there are existing protocols whenever deaths occur inside the prisons,” he added.
From Site Harry, Sebastian’s body was accordingly placed inside a cadaver bag and then brought to the Panteon de Dasmariñas, a public cemetery in Dasmariñas City, Cavite that offers cremation, by the BuCor at around 9:22 p.m. on Saturday and was cremated, said cemetery administrator Liezl Camaganacan.
The glass box containing his ashes stayed there overnight, with BuCor pledging to pick it up last night said Camaganacan adding she was not aware of Sebastian’s high-profile status until she received around 15 calls from the media asking her to confirm his death.
Sebastian was among the infamous “Bilibid 19” inmates who had lavish prison lives complete with a swimming pool exclusively built for them.
However, this was subsequently destroyed by De Lima in 2014.
Sebastian was known as the leader of the Commando jailhouse gang and allegedly led the illegal drug trade in the state penitentiary.
Sebastian testified against De Lima claiming the incarcerated lawmaker to have collected at least P70 million from the proceeds of the NBP drug trade to fund her senatorial campaign before which De Lima denied.
Along with former BuCor officials and high-profile inmates like Sebastian, De Lima is currently facing three charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, all being heard in three courts in Muntinlupa City. (ia/SPH)