MANILA – The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Tuesday called for a thorough investigation on the sudden death of high-profile inmates at the national penitentiary due supposedly to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
"We support a thorough investigation of the many reported anomalies in our prisons, including the latest questioned deaths of high profile inmates due to COVID-19. We call for strict accountability beyond the investigations. Unless erring prison officers are promptly removed, prosecuted, and put in jail, the sorry state of our prisons will continue or will even get worse," IBP President Domingo Egon Cayosa said in a statement.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the COVID-19 situation in the country's prisons, and the reported deaths of 9 inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, including drug convict Jaybee Sebastian.
Besides Sebastian, several high-profile Chinese drug lords allegedly died from COVID-19 as early as April or May, but the Bureau of Corrections officials only confirmed the deaths earlier this week, after media began reporting on the incidents.
To dispel any doubt on the death of Sebastian and the 8 other inmates, BuCor chief Gerald Bantas earlier said he was open to an independent investigation on the matter. But prior to this, he refused to divulge any details regarding Sebastian's death.
"When prisoners are given unwarranted privileges, continue their illicit business from prison, or are surreptitiously and illegally freed, grave injustice is done to the victims, law enforcers, and lawyers who invested time, effort and resources, even at great risk to their security, to put criminals in jail. The rule of law is subverted and the public is betrayed," Cayosa said.
"A porous, inefficient, corrupt, and scandal-ridden prison system wipes out any remaining trust that citizens may have in our criminal justice system."
Cayosa said the developments might be the sign for government if to check whether the country's prisons comply with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners and "adequately achieves the objectives of deterrence, restraint, reformation, retribution, and restoration."
The IBP president also called out against misusing or misinterpreting the Data Privacy Law, which Bantag cited in his refusal to reveal details on Sebastian's death.
"The Data Privacy Law should not be misused to blur the accountability of public officers, thwart the constitutional right to information on matters of public concern, or disregard the personal
interest of the victims and all those who labored to hold the guilty liable. Transparency should instead be promoted to help heal and disinfect our seriously ailing prison system," Cayosa said.
"Sociologists remind us that the state of our prison system reflects the state of our government and of our society."
Sen. Richard Gordon earlier Tuesday said some BuCor officials may be held liable for "absolute misconduct" over the reported deaths of several convicted drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison.