MANILA - Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday said several Bureau of Corrections officials may be held liable for "absolute misconduct" over reported deaths of several convicted drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Several high-profile Chinese drug lords allegedly died from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as early as April or May, but BuCor officials only confirmed the deaths earlier this week, after media began reporting on the incidents.
"Ilalabas nila ['yung report] kung kailan patay na at nasunog na? Nakakaduda 'yun. Hindi tama 'yun. That is unacceptable to me," said Gordon who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
(They will release the report when the inmates have died and have been cremated? That's doubtful to me. That's not right. That is unacceptable to me.)
The senator said that some inmates' relatives were allegedly banned from seeing the dead bodies of their convicted kin.
"The silence was deafening from the very beginning. Talagang tinago (They really hid it)," the senator said.
Gordon flagged the irregular practice in the immediate cremation of the high-profile inmates, saying the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Supreme Court (SC) should have been notified about the deaths of high-profile inmates.
"Ang problema ko diyan (My problem there) is it cheats the hangman," Gordon said.
"Kung life sentence, dapat pag namamatay diyan, ire-report 'yan, hindi ilalagay sa bag, izi-zipper at lalagay sa crematorium," he said.
(Even those who receive life sentence, when they die inside the prison, their deaths have to be reported. They canot just zip them in bags and place them in crematoriums.)
"It's really important na may protocol 'yan na gagawin, hindi sila basta they can make a decision all by themselves," he said.
(It's really important to have a protocol. They cannot just make a decision all by themselves.)
Prisoners who are infected with COVID-19 should also be taken to hospitals or isolation facilities instead of being left to die inside the national penitentiary, the senator said.
"It is absolute misconduct to allow prisoners to die without proper treatment," Gordon said.
BuCor chief Gerald Bantag earlier declined to confirm the reported deaths of convicted drug lords, saying divulging the names of inmates who died from COVID-19 was prohibited under the Data Privacy Act.
But National Privacy Commission (NPC) chief Mon Liboro said the Data Privacy Act cannot be invoked in this incident as the drug lords, including Jaybee Sebastian who accused Sen. Leila de Lima of masterminding the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary, are considered as public figures.
Gordon said the Senate cannot simply trust the word of BuCor officials that the convicted drug lords really died due to COVID-19 as the agency has an "abysmally awful" track record.
Earlier this year, Gordon's Blue Ribbon Committee found that BuCor officials have been accepting money in exchange for a heinous crime convict's early release.
Under the law, convicted murderers and rapists are not allowed to avail of early release despite showing good conduct while in prison.
"'Yung mga track record nila ay hindi kahanga-hanga so we really have to investigate this case," the senator said.
(Their track record is not admirable so we really have to investigate this case.)
"These are Chinese drug lords na kaya magbayad... Malaking pera ito," he said.
(There are Chinese drug lords who can afford to pay... Big money may be involved here.)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier filed a resolution urging the Senate to investigate the alleged coronavirus-related deaths in the national penitentiary.
The investigation will likely take place after the opening of the Senate's 2nd regular session later this month as Sotto's resolution has yet to be referred to either the Blue Ribbon Committee or the Committee on Justice.