Something is up (yet again)

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    ‘Let’s hope Justice Secretary Meynardo Guevarra gets a good grasp of what really happened and comes down hard if ever it is ascertained that there were lapses in protocol, or worse, conspiracies to circumvent prevailing regulations.’

    THE news of the sudden death of several high-profile inmates at the New Bilibid Prison has certainly raised questions (and eyebrows) about the circumstances surrounding their demise. Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials say that the said PDLs (persons deprived of liberty, or convicted persons to us ordinary folk) were infected with COVID-19, and were earlier taken to an undisclosed location for isolation. Aside from Jaybee Sebastian, the identities of the other inmates have not been disclosed, as doing so will allegedly violate the Data Privacy Act, the BuCor said.

    Strange. According to The Manila Bulletin, the Department of Justice (which exercises supervision over the BuCor) reported last July 15 that as of July 1, there were no new cases of COVID infections among its penal farms and colonies. One wonders if the family even knew that their kin was sick with the coronavirus, or if the news reached them before reading about it in media reports.

    Apparently, the remains were cremated following protocol of suspected COVID cases, and the next thing we saw on the news was a photo of what seemed to be ashes in a clear plastic bag. Some people asked, is it Sebastian? We’ll never know, as the scant information provided by the authorities does not inspire confidence in any way.

    Also interesting is this misplaced reticence on the part of BuCor officials to release the names of the other high-profile inmates who supposedly fell victim to the illness. They would do well to abide by the advice of Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, who said yesterday that “disclosing information about a prisoner’s death is not a protected information under the Data Privacy Law.” A quick review of Section 3 (l) of Republic Act 10173 shows that the fact of death is not part of the enumeration of “sensitive personal information” which should not be disclosed or divulged.

    As usual, Drilon struck to the heart of the issue, and did not mince words: “Ano bang tinatago ng BuCor? Moreover, transparency is an effective mechanism to guard against abuses such as fake or simulated deaths,” he said. It’s not an overreach on Drilon’s part, seeing that the BuCor has traditionally been plagued with issues (regardless of administration) such as VIP treatment of well-off PDLs and the continued proliferation of drug dealing inside prison walls. It won’t take a leap to say that if this goes unchecked, it won’t be long before we see PDLs “dying” for their freedom. No need for prison breaks, you see. All you need is to “die,” then find the nearest plastic surgeon to give you a new face and you’re set.

    Let’s hope Justice Secretary Meynardo Guevarra gets a good grasp of what really happened and comes down hard if ever it is ascertained that there were lapses in protocol, or worse, conspiracies to circumvent prevailing regulations. The death of Sebastian is particularly interesting because of the impact it will have on Sen. Leila de Lima’s (still) pending and slow-moving persecution. Sebastian is one of the primary witnesses against De Lima, and his death, depending on the stage of the trial, will have significant impact on the government’s non-case. But that’s another column, maybe for next week. Until then, keep safe, my dear millennials and fillennials. Wash your hands, don’t forget your masks.

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