A high-ranking Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) official today brushed off rumors that Filipino convict Jaybee Sebastian and other high-profile inmates did not die of COVID-19, but were instead allowed to escape in exchange for a substantial fee.
Local media reported over the weekend that Sebastian, as well as eight other inmates, died of COVID-19. However, BuCor chief Gerald Bantag initially refused to release the names of all prisoners who died of the respiratory disease, saying that this information could only be provided to their kin as well as to the Departments of Justice and Health.
Sebastian, who was a witness in the drug case against Senator Leila de Lima, was reportedly cremated immediately after his death. No autopsy was allegedly conducted, but Bantag said this wasn’t necessary for any convict who died of COVID-19 because they already tested positive of the disease before they passed away.
The circumstances surrounding the deaths of Sebastian and eight other high-profile convicts have led to allegations that they may have paid a substantial amount so they could escape prison, spurring Senator Vicente Sotto to call for an investigation into the case.
Shortly after Sotto’s announcement, the BuCor has released photos of a dead Sebastian to the media earlier this week to prove that he did not escape prison.
BuCor Spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said in today’s Laging Handa (“Always Ready”) virtual presser that the allegations against them are false.
“These rumors are just wasting our energy and resources because these are not true. A lot of witnesses [have seen the prisoners die] and this is impossible to happen. If there is a conspiracy, a grand conspiracy [to free them] it will involve hundreds of personnel so that could not have happened. So we want to assure the public that this is not true. And I hope we could disabuse ourselves from these insinuations and not think of them,” Chaclag said in English and Filipino.
“We are not attracted by any monetary considerations if that’s what they are insinuating,” he said of the bureau’s critics.
He insisted that the prisoners’ treatment for COVID-19 and their deaths were witnessed by BuCor staff, the employees of other government agencies, as well as other convicts. Chaclag added that they had recorded everything that the inmates had gone through, from their admission to the hospital up to their cremation.
“Again, we have the documentation [to prove it]. We have pictures and we have our doctors whom we trust. We will not put our doctors and medical professionals’ reputations in question just to do some shenanigans,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bantag, in a separate radio interview with DZBB today, quashed new allegations that the BuCor executed the inmates, and that COVID-19 was just being used to cover up their crime.
“The confirmed [number of COVID-19 cases] is 258. Now, 230 of those [inmates] have recovered. [If I wanted to execute them] all of them should have died. Do you think I’m like Satan to tell COVID to kill all of them? How can they say that?” Bantag said in English and Filipino.
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