Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Chief Director General Gerald Bantag confirmed on Monday, July 20, that high-profile drug convict Jaybee Sebastian died from the coronavirus and was immediately cremated.
Bantag said that according to BuCor protocol, cadavers should be cremated within 12 hours to prevent the spread of the virus.
This was information relayed by Bantag to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in a closed-door meeting Monday afternoon.
"Sebastian's remains were reportedly cremated following this protocol," said Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, citing information from that meeting.
Sebastian is a witness in the drug case of jailed opposition Senator Leila de Lima – a case that has been on trial for 3 years already.
"The prosecution has an array of witnesses," said Guevarra, when asked about what Sebastian's death could mean for the case.
Sebastian is the inmate whom Solicitor General Jose Calida visited inside Bilibid prior to the filing of charges, according to Sebastian's own affidavit.
Sebastian was charged alongside De Lima in the drug cases, and he had already pleaded guilty before his death.
Perete said that BuCor has yet to provide the Department of Justice (DOJ) death certificates on the reported deaths of 8 other high-profile drug convicts.
"Until such documents are presented, it may be premature to confirm their deaths, much less the cause thereof," said Perete.
Rappler has independently verified and confirmed the deaths of convicted shabu tiangge operator Amin Imam Boratong and a fellow Building 14 inmate Zhang Zhu Li as they appear on separate documents.
Boratong's death was indicated in a document pertaining to the release of his body, and Zhang's death was indicated in a BuCor masterlist.
Building 14 is where high-profile inmates are housed inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been ordered by Guevarra to launch a full probe.
"In any case, to dispel any doubt regarding the death of Sebastian and the 8 others, Director General Bantag welcomed an independent investigation on the matter," said Perete.
Rappler's previous reporting on prison conditions during the coronavirus pandemic showed little transparency on the part of BuCor, be it towards media or relatives.
Dozens have died inside Bilibid without clear causes of death, limiting the full picture of the state of infection there and raising questions about testing capacity inside prison.
Bantag said only 21 convicts died of COVID-19. Only 5 convicts remain in isolation.
"Bantag nevertheless assured the Secretary that the health situation within the BuCor is under control," said Perete. – Rappler.com