MANILA — Suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag was digging for Yamashita treasure inside the compound of the New Bilibid Prison, according to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla.
Remulla said it was Bantag who personally told him about the hunt for the Yamashita treasure sometime in August or September.
"That was supposed to be a treasure hunt for Yamashita treasure. Originally. I was told by Director General Bantag about it. And I told him to stop it. I told him to stop it," he told the media at the Department of Justice, a day after he returned from a working trip to Geneva.
“He opened up to me about it and I told him wag mo na gawin 'yan (don't do that)," he added.
Remulla said he advised Bantag to stop the digging immediately.
"Ridiculous nga e. Tsaka, you’re wasting government time and money. Di ko alam kung government time and money ginamit niya pero ridiculous para sa akin," he said.
(It's ridiculous. Also, you're wasting government time and money. I'm not sure if it's government time and money but still it's ridiculous for me.)
"You're not there to seek for treasure. You're there to run the corrections department."
The excavation and tunnel were first divulged by BuCor officer-in-charge Gregorio Catapang, Jr. last week.
The hole is about 200 meters by 200 meters wide and 30 meters deep.
Catapang said it had no paperwork and was not authorized by the bureau.
But he confirmed that the equipment, particularly the backhoe used for digging, is owned by the BuCor.
The digging, which allegedly began 6 months ago, was done in secret with the backhoe operator instructed to bring the backhoe only to the NBP’s main gate.
In an interview with ANC, Catapang raised the possibility that it might be used for illegal quarrying or to hunt for Yamashita treasure although he said they are also looking into the possibility of the excavation being used to smuggle contraband into the national penitentiary or for possible escape of detainees.
In a TV interview, suspended BuCor chief Gerald Bantag claimed the excavation was intended to build a deep swimming pool since he is a scuba diver.
He denied it was intended as an escape tunnel.
Former Justice Secretary and current Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra denied knowledge about the excavation and tunnel at the national penitentiary.
""Nothing of that sort was ever mentioned to me when I was SOJ(secretary of justice)," he said.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE EXCAVATION?
Remulla said he is unaware when exactly the digging started or if a Yamashita treasure was ever found as a result of Bantag's digging.
"'Di ko alam e (I don't know). Actually, I have no idea. We were too busy with other things, believe me. This department has too much to handle," he said.
Asked about his plans regarding the deep hole, the Justice chief said he will still have to check what happened.
"I have to check what happened there and saan napunta 'yung filling material kasi (where did the filling material go because) that’s a lot of money. [The] filling material is a lot of money also," he said.
Bantag's lawyer, Atty. Rocky Tomas Balisong, declined to comment.