New Bilibid Prison

Need proof? Just show photo of dead inmates’ bodies – Recto

JC Gotinga
‘There is always a photographic record of the deceased, more so in this age when everyone has a cellphone and every cellphone has a camera,’ says Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto

To prove the reported deaths of 9 high-value prisoners and end speculations it was a ruse for their escape, all the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) needs to do is show photos of the dead bodies, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said on Tuesday, July 21.

“The proof of death is a photo of the body. If there is, then doubts will be laid to rest,” Recto said in a statement on the controversy surrounding the alleged COVID-19 deaths of drug convict Jaybee Sebastian and 8 other maximum security inmates at the New Bilibid Prison.

If the BuCor does produce photos of Sebastian’s and the other inmates’ bodies, there shall be no need for a “macabre show” by making them public, Recto added.

“Simply show it to the justice secretary (Menardo Guevarra), and if he says that he had seen it, and swears that it is true, then we’ll take his word for it,” the senator said.

CCTV footage of the bodies being brought out of Bilibid would be better, Recto added. “And why should there be none? A prison without surveillance cameras is like one without locks.”

Just as prisoners, as a rule, have their photos taken upon entering the national penitentiary, then surely a visual record is taken upon their exit, too, whether they are alive or dead, the senator said.

“There is always a photographic record of the deceased, more so in this age when everyone has a cellphone and every cellphone has a camera. Show them to the justice secretary – and the death certificates and medical records of deceased high-profile drug lords – and all the conspiracy theories in this land, where weaving them is a national hobby, will be buried,” Recto added.

Sebastian reportedly died on Saturday, July 18, and was “immediately cremated” without an autopsy the same evening at a cemetery in Dasmariñas City, Cavite, the BuCor earlier said. The crematorium workers did not verify the identities of bodies sent from Bilibid either, according to a report cited by a Senate resolution on Monday, July 20.

Sebastian was the main witness in the drug trafficking cases against Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained since February 2017. From her cell at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City, De Lima on Monday said Sebastian’s death amounts to “one less fabrication” against her. She insisted the charges against her were all false.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday called for an investigation of the Bilibid inmates’ alleged deaths. Citing “unclear, inaccurate, and unverified reports,” Sotto urged the Senate to probe whether the inmates, including Sebastian, “actually died.”

The absence of definitive proof of the reported deaths has sparked speculations that it all could be a cover-up for the inmates’ escape.

Drilon: Data privacy does not apply

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon refuted earlier claims that the Data Privacy Law prevents the BuCor from disclosing the identities of the 9 inmates it reported to have died of the coronavirus.

Prior to a meeting with Guevarra on Monday, BuCor chief Gerald Bantag declined to confirm reports that Sebastian had died and was cremated. Bantag cited the Data Privacy Law. He only afterwards confirmed Sebastian’s death to Guevarra.

Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier sided with Bantag, saying the disclosure of the dead inmates’ identities may expose their families to discrimination.

Drilon on Tuesday said the BuCor was “very wrong” in claiming it could not release the information, and he hoped Guevarra would correct it.

“The policy behind the Data Privacy Act is to protect the people from being harmed from the invasion of their property. Second, death is not among the so-called sensitive information that cannot be released. In fact, you need a death certificate for that, a public document,” Drilon said in an interview on DZBB radio, in a mix of English and Filipino.

Besides, prisoners have a limited right to privacy, Drilon added. While in prison, some of a person’s civil and political rights are “deemed suspended,” he said.

If the data in question affects public health, such as information on a COVID-19 death, then it is also exempted from the Data Privacy Act, according to Drilon. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.