National Privacy Commission says Data Privacy Act can't be invoked; Sebastian a public figure
MANILA (UPDATE) – The Department of Justice (DOJ) will order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the sudden death of high-profile inmates at the national penitentiary due supposedly to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The DOJ, in a statement Monday, said Sec. Menardo Guevarra met with Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the country's prisons, and the reported deaths of 9 inmates, including drug bigwig Jaybee Sebastian.
"Secretary Guevarra is set to issue a Department Order directing the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct such investigation," the DOJ said in a statement.
In the copy of the order obtained by ABS-CBN News, Guevarra ordered NBI officer-in-charge Eric Distor to conduct an investigation on the deaths of the 9 inmates allegedly due to COVID-19.
Distor is also directed to submit his report on the progress of the investigation directly to Guevarra within 10 days.
— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) July 20, 2020
The justice department, through spokesman Usec. Markk Perete also claimed Sebastian was already cremated, based on Bantag's confirmation.
SOJ Guevarra to order NBI to probe deaths of Bilibid inmates pic.twitter.com/omMEtAJimE
— Mike Navallo (@mikenavallo) July 20, 2020
Bantag earlier said 21 inmates contracted COVID-19 and several have died since March.
He also said Sebastian's remains were cremated within 12 hours since his death, following the protocol on deaths due to COVID-19.
To dispel any doubt on the death of Sebastian and the 8 other inmates, Bantag said he was open to an independent investigation on the matter.
Prior to his confirmation, Bantag refused to divulge any details regarding Sebastian's death, citing the Data Privacy Act.
National Privacy Commission commissioner Mon Liboro, however, said the Data Privacy Act cannot be invoked in the said situation, since Sebastian had become a public figure.
"The Data Privacy Act is not a cloak for denying the public's right to know. High-profile inmates like JB (sic) Sebastian had become public figures on account of their previous association with particular national issues in the past," Liboro said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
He also said public interest in the incident is justified since Sebastian is linked to issues already known to the public.
Guevarra echoed Liboro's statement, at least with respect to information about Sebastian's death, especially since he was supposed to testify against Senator Leila de Lima.
"At least with respect to Jaybee Sebastian, who was supposed to testify for the people in the cases against Senator De Lima at the time of his death, I certainly agree with Commissioner Liboro’s statement," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said he will file a resolution to look into the deaths of several convicted drug lords in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
Eighteen inmates in two facilities of the Bureau of Corrections have died due to COVID-19, the bureau's spokesman said Sunday.
As of July 12, the BuCor has recorded 343 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 311 patients have recovered.