New Bilibid Prison

Bantag says he ordered excavation in Bilibid to build ‘deepest’ pool in metro

Jairo Bolledo
Bantag says he ordered excavation in Bilibid to build ‘deepest’ pool in metro

SUSPENDED. File photo of suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag taken at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City on July 31, 2020.

Rappler

Building a swimming pool, however, is not part of the BuCor’s mandate, which only includes 'safekeeping and instituting reformation programs for national inmates sentenced to more than three years'

Suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag not only faces issues related to Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa’s death – he is also being linked to other controversies during his time as corrections chief.

Last week, acting BuCor chief Gregorio Catapang Jr. revealed in an ABS-CBN News report that they had found a hole and tunnel inside the New Bilibid Prison. Catapang said the hole is 200 meters wide, and 30 meters deep.

However, Bantag said he ordered the excavation to build a swimming pool because, according to him, he is a “master scuba diver.”

Person, Human, Hand

Alam ko ‘yon, ‘yong hukay na ‘yon. Ako rin nagpahukay no’n. Diver ako eh, scuba diver. Ang plano namin do’n, deep swimming pool,” Bantag told News5 in an interview on November 11. (I know that, I know that hole. I ordered that excavation. I am a diver, scuba diver. We planned to make that a deep swimming pool.)

Ang dive niya sa taas pagano’n (The dive would be from the up, then down),” the suspended BuCor chief added, demonstrating diving with his hands. 

Bantag added the hole was not a tunnel.

Kaya sabi nitong Catapang, gagawing tunnel? Ang layo-layo no’n. Ano siya minero para makagawa ng tunnel? ‘Di ba?” the suspended corrections chief said. (Catapang said, it would be a tunnel? That’s too far. Is he a miner to create a tunnel? Right?)

Boplaks din eh. Sabi ng mga taga-NCR (National Capital Region), boplaks eh (He is dumb. NCR people said he is dumb).”

Bantag says he ordered excavation in Bilibid to build ‘deepest’ pool in metro

However, Catapang said the excavation was found near the director’s quarters or the official residence of the BuCor Director General.

The acting BuCor chief said the excavation started in 2019. There were two directors-general that year – Nicanor Faeldon, who was fired in the middle of controversies pertaining to the Good Conduct Time Allowance law, and Bantag, who took over from Faeldon.

Catapang said the equipment used in the project – backhoe and excavator trucks – are owned by the bureau.

‘Metro Manila’s deepest swimming pool’

On the claim that the “tunnel” is linked to a river, Bantag said it’s actually a river.

Eh talagang ilog ‘yon. Kasi doon, ilog. Hindi naman tunnel ‘yon eh,” Bantag explained. (That’s really a river. That’s a river. That’s not a tunnel.)

The suspended BuCor chief said that they aimed to make the swimming pool the deepest pool in the country’s capital region.

Malalim ‘yon, gagawin sana naming swimming pool. Ang dami naming scuba divers do’n. Master scuba diver ako eh. Kaya mahilig akong ano, gusto namin pinaka-deepest swimming pool sana dito sa Metro Manila siguro.”

(That’s deep, we wanted to make it a swimming pool. There are a lot of scuba divers there like me. I am a master scuba diver. That’s why I love to, we want to make that the deepest swimming pool in Metro Manila, probably.)

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Building a swimming pool, however, is not part of the BuCor’s mandate, which only includes “safekeeping and instituting reformation programs [for] national inmates sentenced to more than three (3) years,” according to Republic Act No. 10575.

How much was earmarked for it? Was it in the bureau’s budget? Should construction have been a priority, given more urgent needs of persons deprived of liberty and the prison system? These are questions that remain unanswered.

Bantag is also in hot water because of other controversies inside Bilibid under his watch. This includes contraband seized by the BuCor on November 2, which includes 7,512 bottles of liquor.

The suspended BuCor chief is also accused of violating the Civil Service Commission’s (CSC) rule by absorbing officials from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and giving them higher ranks.

Authorities said it is a violation of item 15 of CSC Memorandum Circular No. 3, series of 2001, which bans the promotion of a government employee to a position more than three grades higher than his/her former post in relation to salary, pay, or job.

At present, Bantag is facing murder complaints for the deaths of Lapid and alleged middleman in the broadcaster’s killing, Jun Villamor. The Department of Justice also served a subpoena on Bantag on Tuesday. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.