Bureau of Corrections

Guevarra: We’ve been trying to ‘uncover strange things’ at BuCor

Lian Buan
'The DOJ has been trying to uncover strange things happening at the BuCor, that is why it has ordered the NBI to step in,' says Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Sunday, July 26, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has also been trying to “uncover strange things” at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) even though he technically oversees the bureau.

The BuCor is an attached agency to the DOJ, although the BuCor law defines the relationship as “administrative supervision” only.

“The DOJ has been trying to uncover strange things happening at the BuCor, that is why it has ordered the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to step in,” Guevarra told reporters on Sunday.

It was a response to an earlier statement of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) criticizing the DOJ and the BuCor for lack of transparency.

The CHR said it has been wanting to get some information on prison conditions and the list of convicts who have died in BuCor custody, but that it was referred to the DOJ.

“Several correspondences were sent to the DOJ to request, among others, the list of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) confined at Site Harry and/or any other quarantine/isolation area and the list of deceased PDLs due to COVID-19,” the CHR said in a statement.

“Despite the lapse of over 15 days since then, the commission has yet to receive a response. We call out the BuCor and the DOJ for their lack of transparency and non-cooperation.”

According to Justice Undersecretary for Corrections Deo Marco, they sent the CHR’s requested information by mail last week.

“It is not fair to say that the department has not been transparent about the conditions at the BuCor,” said Guevarra.

Guevarra added that “this kind of information is available only from the primary source. The DOJ does not keep the official files of the BuCor nor the personal records of PDLs.”

Another scandal

The BuCor is again embroiled in another controversy following the high number of fatalities in its custody amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the successive deaths of high-profile inmates which turned out to have been initially kept from the DOJ.

Rappler found in earlier investigations that dozens of prisoners died without ever being tested for the coronavirus, raising questions about limited testing in prison facilities, and concerns about not getting a full picture of the state of infection there.

Since the Good Conduct Time Allowance controversy broke out in 2019, Guevarra has been pushing for an amendment of the BuCor law to give the DOJ more control over the bureau.

The limited power of the DOJ is also the reason why Guevarra could not directly react to the calls for BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag to resign.

“Under the BuCor law, the DOJ exercises supervision, not control, over the bureau. The BuCor director general is appointed directly by the President, and the latter’s trust is the measure of the director general’s continuance in office,” said Guevarra.

The justice chief added that he leaves it “entirely to Bantag’s sound discretion” if the latter would take a leave of absence while the matters are being investigated.

The Senate also has its own legislative inquiry planned. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.