BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and ASHZEL HACHERO
PRESIDENT Duterte has designated regional jail director Senior Supt. Gerald Quitaleg Bantag as director general of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said yesterday.
Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Bantag was chosen by the President as BuCor head “based on his professional competence and honesty.”
Bantag served as warden of the Parañaque and Manila city jails. He faces 10 counts of murder after a grenade explosion inside the Parañaque City jail in August 2016, which killed 10 inmates including two Chinese facing drug-related charges. The Parañaque City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 issued a warrant against Bantag in September 2017 in connection with the incident, along with two of his men, Jail Officers 2 Ricardo Zulueta and Victor Pascua.
President Duterte last night said he chose Bantag because of his experience in dealing with detainees and handling detention and jail facilities.
The President, in a chance interview after the oath-taking of new appointees in government, acknowledged that Bantag is facing criminal charges for the Parañaque jail explosion but said he has not been convicted. He added that the murder charges against Bantag were downgraded from murder to homicide.
“Since there is no conviction yet, in obedience to the rule of the presumption of innocence, I gave him a new job,” said the President adding he does not believe that Bantag had deliberately had the inmates killed. He also said that he likes Bantag.
Police reports on the incident said Bantag and the 10 inmates were having a dialogue at Bantag’s office the ground floor of the jail. The inmates were reportedly opposing their transfer to another detention cell. During the discussion, one of the inmates threw a grenade. The other inmates were found carrying pistols and fan knives.
He said if the charges are proven true, Bantag would be convicted, but until then, he would see what he could do at the BuCor.
The President added that he wanted to try someone with the experience of handling detention centers because appointing former policemen or retired soldiers does not seem to be effective.
“He knows his business… All the things you have observed along the way, all the things that are being obnoxious or repugnant to the public, huwag mong gawin (do not do it),” he said adding that Bantag should also ensure that the convicts are secured and no one would escape.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he does not personally know Bantag because the latter was under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The BJMP is under the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The BuCor is an attached agency of the justice department.
The BJMP website lists Bantag as director for the Mimaropa region, or Region 4-B, which covers Marinduque, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, and Romblon.
Bantag replaces Nicanor Faeldon who was fired by the President for earlier this month disobeying his orders against the release of heinous crime convicts under the good conduct time allowance law.
Guevarra said the President does not need to consult him in making any appointments because it is the President’s discretion.
“I’m sure the President has good reasons for appointing Gerard Bantag as the new BuCor chief. The President is not required to consult me before making this appointment,” he said.
Section 12 of Republic Act No. 10575 or the BuCor Modernization Act of 2013 states that the bureau’s director general “is appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Secretary of the DOJ, with the proper endorsement by the chairman of the Civil Service Commission.”