Official facing criminal charges for August 2016 jail blast that killed 10 prisoners
MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Gerald Bantag as the new director-general of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), Malacañang announced Tuesday.
Bantag replaces Nicanor Faeldon, who was sacked by the President earlier this month following the approval of the release of several heinous crime convicts.
Duterte picked Bantag despite pending criminal charges against him over an August 2016 jail blast where 10 prisoners were killed.
"I think the case is in court, he's facing homicide charges, I don't think that he did it. If he did, then baka ma-convict siya (then he might be convicted) but in the meantime, gusto ko siya (I like him). Kasi nagtatapon ng granada, daw (Because he throws grenades, allegedly)," Duterte told reporters Tuesday night.
"Kasi sinong ibigay mo, pati si santo... gusto ko nga magkuha ng santo wala naman, ganoon rin. Magkuha ka ng military, wala. Dito ka sa talagang may experience sa BJMP," the President said.
(Because whoever you put there (at the BuCor), even a saint... I wanted to get a saint, but it's the same. You get a military guy, nothing. So I went with someone who has experience at the BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology).)
Prior to his appointment, Bantag was regional director of the BJMP in the Southwestern Tagalog Region. He also served as warden of the Parañaque and Manila City Jails.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Bantag was chosen "based on his professional competence and honesty."
"The Palace is behind the President's decision and is confident that DG Bantag will continue the administration’s campaign against corruption as he spearheads reform initiatives in the Bureau," he said.
Bantag assumes the leadership of the BuCor 2 days before President Duterte's deadline for heinous crime convicts released early under the controversial good conduct time allowance (GCTA) policy to surrender or risk being considered as fugitives.
Some 2,000 heinous-crime convicts have been released since 2014 under the GCTA law, which reduces an inmate’s sentence due to good conduct, igniting public uproar and official scrutiny of the law.
Bantag is facing 10 counts of murder over a jail blast that left him wounded and 10 prisoners dead. Duterte said the charges were downgraded to homicide.
The blast occurred in August 2016 while Bantag was warden of the Parañaque City Jail.
The explosion was reportedly staged to summarily execute high-profile inmates but this was denied by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
An arrest warrant had been issued against Bantag.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said he believes Duterte has good reason for appointing Bantag.
"The president is not required to consult me before making this appointment. I'm sure the President has good reasons for appointing Gerald Bantag as the new BuCor chief," Guevarra said.
Earlier this month, the President's close aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said he recommended that a "killer" be appointed as Faeldon's replacement.
"Basta ako nire-recommend ko kay Pangulo [na] mamuno d'yan sa BuCor, killer. Ang mamumuno ng BuCor dapat killer," Go told reporters.
(I recommended to the President to appoint a killer at the BuCor. A killer should lead the BuCor.)
- with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News