A Parañaque court on Wednesday acquitted Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director Gerald Bantag and two other jailers of charges of homicide over an explosion in a city jail that killed 10 inmates in 2016.
On Aug. 13, 2016, 10 inmates had reportedly requested a meeting with Bantag, who was then the Parañaque city jail’s warden. However, on their way to Bantag’s office, the inmates allegedly brandished a grenade and fired a machine pistol in Bantag’s direction, according to the testimony of then-Police Chief Jose Carumba.
The warden shot back and purportedly hit the grenade, resulting in the blast that killed eight on the spot, while two others were declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Bantag was also reportedly injured in the encounter, which was chalked up as an attempted jailbreak, The Philippine Star reports.
The Parañaque Regional Trial Court Branch 274 acquitted Bantag of 10 counts of homicide due to “insufficiency of evidence,” The Manila Bulletin reports.
The court said that Bantag had faced “an actual attack… when the inmates or one of the inmates fired at him and… [threw at] him an unknown object later confirmed to be a fragmentation grenade.”
It added that Bantag firing back at the inmates “cannot be considered as retaliation considering the unlawful aggression committed by the inmates was still existing when the inmates were injured or killed as a result of the defensive act of Accused Bantag.”
It added that the prosecution “presented no other evidence except the bare allegations of the private complainants.”
The wife of one slain inmate, however, has alleged that the blast was staged to summarily execute the inmates, eight of whom were facing drug charges, ABS-CBN News reports.
“Two weeks before the blast, he [the slain inmate] told me, ‘Ma, it’s already dangerous here’… He said there are plans for a staged killing,” the widow, identified only as “Maria,” told DZMM in 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte had appointed Bantag to head the BuCor in September last year. He replaced former corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon, who was sacked over the questionable releases of inmates convicted of heinous crimes. Besides the 2016 homicide charges, Bantag was also charged with attempted murder in 2007 after shooting a teenager three times when he was the chief of the Navotas City jail.
Knowing Bantag’s record was far from pristine, Duterte actually joked that the grenade incident was one of the things he liked about him.
“He might get convicted, but in the meantime, I like him because he threw a grenade, allegedly,” Duterte cracked when asked about Bantag’s appointment at the time. “I want to look for a saint but there’s no one like that. When you get a military man, nothing happens. Choose this one who has experience at the BJMP [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology].”