Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag said today in an interview that there was no need to autopsy inmates who have died of COVID-19 as critics raise doubts over the real reason behind their passing.
Local media have reported for the past few days that convict Jaybee Sebastian, as well as eight other high-profile convicts, have died of COVID-19. The BuCor has chosen not to confirm the deaths of the inmates to the media and said such information could only be given to their relatives.
Sebastian is notorious for allegedly running a drug ring inside the New Bilibid Prisons, one that supposedly funded the 2016 campaign of Senator Leila De Lima.
The non-profit organization Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption said it could be possible that the inmates weren’t really dead, but were freed by the government in exchange for millions of pesos. The organization yesterday urged BuCor to provide documentary evidence of the inmates’ death to prove that there was no foul play involved. Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto is seeking to investigate the deaths of the convicts upon learning that they were cremated without being autopsied.
In an interview with the news program Unang Balita today, Bantag insisted that there was no need to autopsy the bodies of the convicts because the Department of Health (DOH) does not require the BuCor to do so.
“There are already COVID-positive [patients]. I’m not a doctor. What I mean is, you can just talk to my doctor so he could explain that. But there’s no need to autopsy them because these are already COVID cases and became severe. Now, our protocol is, they have to be cremated within 12 hours,” he said in English and Filipino.
He also said that while they cannot give the names of those who died to the media, they have already informed the DOH and the Department of Justice about the convicts who have passed away. As of today, at least 21 inmates have died of COVID-19, including female convicts.
Bantag lashed out at critics and said that “there is no foul play involved” over the deaths.
“My challenge to them is, look for a person who is alive who can say, ‘I was the one who was freed. I have paid them. I’m the person whose name appears on the death certificate.’ If they cannot find anyone like that, then they shouldn’t express these doubts. If they want to have this investigated, they’re welcome to do that,” he said.
“These are just their opinions. These high-ranking officials keep saying things but they’re just making the public suspicious…They should trust government officials [like us],” Bantag added.
The BuCor chief also rejected accusations that some inmates who have tested positive during rapid tests, which are widely known to be unreliable, are immediately brought to Site Harry, an isolation facility where their situation supposedly worsens. He said those who were brought to the facility are patients who have tested positive during swab tests, considered the most reliable way to detect the coronavirus.
“That’s not true. They have to test positive in swab [tests] first before they are brought to Site Harry. If there are those who took rapid tests who have to be isolated, they are just brought to camps,” he said.
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