Gerald Bantag, a long-time prison official facing multiple homicide charges, has been named President Rodrigo Duterte’s new chief at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), the Palace announced yesterday.
Bantag replaces embattled Nicanor Faeldon, who was forced to step down amid public furor over the near-release of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez, convicted in 1995 of torturing and murdering college students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
Sanches was almost freed under the controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance law despite the fact that he was not eligible. A subsequent investigation revealed that over 2,000 ineligible inmates convicted of “heinous crimes” had been released in the past six years.
Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s spokesman, said Bantag was chosen by the president because of his “professional competence and honesty,” reported The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
But Bantag’s professional record is far from pristine, which is a nice way of saying he was charged with attempted murder in 2007 after shooting a teenager three times when he was the chief of the Navotas City jail, and 10 counts of murder after a grenade blast inside his office(!) at the Parañaque City jail that killed 10 inmates back in 2017.
The grenade blast, which injured Bantag, was blamed on his “negligence.” (Editor: Don’t you just hate it when a grenade goes off in your own office and “accidentally” kills 10 inmates?)
He was also charged with fraud in 2014 for allegedly refusing to pay his bill then firing his gun inside a Malabon City restaurant, y’know, like normal, upstanding law enforcement officials do.
In an interview with reporters last night, however, Duterte defended Bantag, saying that the 2017 Parañaque City murder case has been downgraded to homicide.
“Since there’s no conviction yet, in obedience to the rule of the presumption of innocence, I gave him a new job,” Duterte said in English and Filipino. “I think his cases in court, he’s facing homicide charges, I don’t think he did it.”
“He might get convicted, but in the meantime, I like him because he threw a grenade, allegedly,” he joked. “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).”
Bantag’s appointment comes almost a week after Senator Bong Go, formerly a close aide of Duterte, suggested that the president should hire “a killer” as BuCor chief. Yet Go was quick to defend Bantag from accusations that the latter is bloodthirsty.
“Bantag may be competent and honest… Bantag is not a killer,” Go told reporters at the Senate yesterday.
We can think of at least 10 inmates who might disagree.