MANILA — (UPDATED) A New Bilibid Prison inmate who was reported missing since July 15 claimed walked out of maximum security by pretending to be one of the people visiting the inmates, a police official said Friday.
Police Maj. Lauro Leyva Moratillo, Angono Municipal police station chief, said inmate Michael Cataroja claimed he timed his escape during the visit of outsiders to the maximum security prison.
"Casual lang daw siyang lumabas doon sa maximum security. Sumabay siya sa dalaw po. Kasi po araw daw ng dalaw," Moratillo said in a TeleRadyo Serbisyo interview, adding that one of the visitors allegedly had the same height and build as Cataroja.
(He said he casually walked out of maximum security. He timed his escape with the visiting hours.)
He added Cataroja claimed he copied the mark stamped on visitors with just a pen.
"Ang ginamit niya ay ballpen na luma. Pinag-aralan niya, in short, 'yung kilos, 'yung galaw tapos ang sabi niya naghanap siya ng taong kasing sukat niya, kasing body build niya so that 'yung pangalan gumawa na lang siya," Police LtGen Rhoderick Armamento, South Luzon police commander, said in a separate interview.
(He said he used an old pen. He found someone with the same build and used a made-up name.)
After his escape, Cataroja allegedly walked all the way from New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa to Cainta.
Moratillo said he had doubts about Cataroja's story considering the heavy security in Bilibid.
"Hindi naman kami naniniwala dahil alam natin maximum security 'yun. Napakahigpit ng security, marami siyang gate na lalagpasan," he said.
(We're doubtful of his story because we know how tight the security is. He would have passed by many gates.)
The police chief said authorities arrested Cataroja in Barangay Isidro in Angono less than 2 weeks after receiving a letter of coordination from the Bureau of Corrections.
He noted the inmate was visiting his parents who lived in a nearby barangay.
A tipster informed police about Cataroja's whereabouts on the day of the arrest.
“Noong actual operation namin naabutan namin siyang kumakain so wala na siyang pagkakataon makatakbo pa then noong huli na namin siya hindi na siya nag-resist. Inamin niya na siya talaga si Michael Cataroja hanggang sa istasyon wala na siyang resistance," Moratillo said.
(He was eating when we found him, so he had no chance to run and he did not resist arrest. He admitted that he is Michael Cataroja and did not put up any resistance until we reached the station.)
Authorities initially searched Bilibid's septic tanks on the suspicion that Cataroja might have been killed and buried there.
But they later suspected that Cataroja was still alive when his mother appeared unmoved by news the inmate could have been killed, said Atty. Ferdinand Balduman, chief of the BuCor Directorate for Intelligence and Investigation.
Cataroja, who is in jail for violating the anti-fencing law, is also facing another criminal complaint for carjacking.
He is now set to face more charges for breaking out of maximum security prison.
The inmate is currently under the custody of the Angono police. He will be returned to New Bilibid Prison maximum security by Friday night.
Cataroja underwent inquest proceedings at the Rizal Prosecutor’s Office on Friday.
According to Police Major Lauro Moratillo, chief of the Angono police, Cataroja gave conflicting statements on how he escaped.
"Unang kuwento niya sumabay siya sa dalaw, paglabas dun sa ano ginaya niya yung stampad nung sa NBP kaya siya nakalabas. Ngayon iba na naman ang kanyang scenario, sumabit siya sa trak ng basura," Moratillo said.
(He initially claimed that he escaped because of the visiting hours. He's now claiming that he road a garbage truck.)
Moratillo added that he was not convinced that Cataroja had an accomplice.
"Base sa ano wala naman kasi kung susuriin naman naman katayuan niya sa buhay wala naman siyang kakayanan na magbigay o mangako ng kapalit," he said.
(He does not have the capacity to give bribes or promise anything in return.)
But Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gregorio Catapang and Sen. Francis Tolentino disagreed.
"I don't think [he could escape] without the help of any guards or the duty officers there because, you know, they should be accounted for. And how come he had the pass, he had the marking, he was able to get a visitor's pass and put a marking on his hand that he is one of the visitors?" Catapang told ANC on Friday.
Cataroja "might be in cahoots" with someone, Tolentino said. "We will know what measures to institutionalize to prevent this from happening again," he said.
The inmate insisted that no one helped him. He said he escaped because he was scared he would die inside the penitentiary and wanted to be reunited with his family.
"Mamatay po ako sa Bilibid eh," Cataroja said. "Mali hatol ko, inisip ko kung makalaya pa ako."
Police and prison officials will attend a Senate hearing into Cataroja's escape on Tuesday.
— With a report from Jeff Caparas
, ABS-CBN News