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Claim: The New Bilibid Prison (NBP) was never involved in a controversy under the leadership of former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag.
Why we fact-checked this: The YouTube video posted on October 15 has 23,964 views and 577 likes from a channel with 81,100 subscribers.
The narrator said: “Kung matatandaan sa pamumuno ni General Bantag, wala tayong narinig na reklamo dahil kamay na bakal ang ginamit ni Bantag kaya naging malinis at maayos ang New Bilibid Prison, maging ang kalakalan ng ilegal na droga.“
(It can be recalled that during General Bantag’s leadership, we never heard any issues because of Bantag’s iron-hand treatment, which was why operations at the New Bilibid Prison were clean and orderly, including addressing illegal drug trade problems.)
The video was posted ahead of the one-year anniversary of Bantag’s suspension on October 21, 2022.
The bottom line: Contrary to the claim, there were reports of riots, illegal drug trades, circulation of contraband, and prison mismanagement when Bantag served as BuCor director. His term ran from September 2019 to October 2022, when he was suspended and later replaced by Gregorio Catapang Jr.
Riots, drugs, and contraband: In 2020, two riots erupted between the prison’s Sputnik and Commando gangs, killing at least 13. Guns, improvised weapons, and blades were involved in the fights. Earlier that same year, authorities conducted a raid in the prison and confiscated contraband, including 4,000 cell phones.
Another riot broke out in 2021 during BuCor’s Oplan Galugad where 120 arrows and 60 bolos (large knives) were confiscated. The following year, three were killed and 14 injured after a fight involving an exchange of gunshots.
In response to the series of riots, the Commission on Human Rights called on the Department of Justice and BuCor to look into the incidents of jail violence while also vowing to conduct its own independent investigation.
Illegal drugs remained a problem during Bantag’s term. In September 2020, a convicted drug lord allegedly continued the illegal drug trade while inside Bilibid and was linked to a P47.6 million drug bust in Cebu City.
After Catapang took over as acting BuCor chief, he revealed the discovery of numerous contraband inside the national penitentiary, such as canned beer, suspected shabu, mobile phones, and deadly weapons. Another search in the prison showed a menagerie of horses, cockfighting roosters, and pythons being kept inside the prison.
Prison mismanagement: Bantag also came under fire for authorizing illegal projects inside Bilibid, in particular, a 30-meter deep excavation in the prison premises, to build Metro Manila’s “deepest swimming pool.” According to Justice Secretary Jose Crispin “Boying” Remulla, Bantag also reasoned that the hole would be used to search for the so-called Yamashita treasure.
In 2021, Bantag was named persona non grata by Muntinlupa City for building walls around the New Bilibid Prison, blocking residents from moving freely in the city. The municipal government urged then-president Rodrigo Duterte to “overturn” and “recall” Bantag’s actions. (READ: A string of controversies hounds suspended BuCor chief Bantag)
Troubled history: Before being named BuCor chief in 2019, Bantag had previously been charged with the attempted murder of a teenager in Caloocan City and firing a gun in a restaurant in Malabon City after not paying his bill.
In 2016, he was also accused of planning an explosion that killed 10 “high-profile” inmates during his time as Parañaque City jail warden, but he was acquitted in January 2020 due to lack of evidence.
Bantag was suspended in October 2022 after being tagged in the killing of broadcaster Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, whose hard-hitting show had targeted Bantag. The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group had already issued a manhunt for Bantag and others accused of the murders. (READ: Who is Gerald Bantag, among the accused in the murder of Percy Lapid?)
Rappler has published several fact-checks on Bantag and his leadership as BuCor chief:
- FACT CHECK: Gumugulong pa rin ang murder complaint laban kay Bantag
- FACT CHECK: Hindi iniutos ni Raffy Tulfo na ibasura ang reklamo laban kay Bantag
- Persons deprived of liberty used gadgets even before Catapang’s tenure
– Kyle Marcelino/Rappler.com
Kyle Marcelino is a graduate of Rappler’s fact-checking mentorship program. This fact check was reviewed by a member of Rappler’s research team and a senior editor. Learn more about Rappler’s fact-checking mentorship program here.
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