Bureau of Corrections

Corpse found inside Bilibid septic tank

Jairo Bolledo

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Corpse found inside Bilibid septic tank

BUCOR. The Bureau of Corrections in Muntinlupa City on October 28, 2016.

LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) BuCor Deputy Director for Operations Angelina Bautista says they will still have to determine if the corpse belongs to PDL Michael Angelo Cataroja, who has gone missing since July 15

MANILA, Philippines – The days-long search of the Bureau of Corrections for a missing person deprived of liberty (PDL) inside the New Bilibid Prison led to the discovery of a corpse inside a septic tank, a BuCor official said on Wednesday, July 26.

BuCor Deputy Director for Operations Angelina Bautista said in a DZBB interview that they started a search operation in the national penitentiary after Michael Angelo Cataroja went missing on July 15. Cataroja had been in the state penitentiary for around two years, serving his sentence for violating the anti-fencing law.

After they had difficulty tracking down Cataroja, BuCor sought the help of the Philippine Coast Guard, which used its search and rescue dogs for the operation.

In a separate interview with DWPM 630, BuCor Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said that the PCG K9 units were made to smell Cataroja’s clothes, and that the dogs led the team to the septic tank. He said this made them think that “there’s a big chance” that the corpse found there belonged to Cataroja.

Catapang said he reported this to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.

Remulla said in an interview with reporters on Wednesday that Cataroja had been found. “’Yong nawawalang PDL nahanap na, patay (The missing PDL was already found, dead). Decapitated. That’s the status of the missing PDL,” he said.

He said he expected a comprehensive report from Catapang about the incident within the day.

Bautista said, however, they will still have to conduct a thorough examination of the corpse found in the septic tank, which still has to be drained, to determine if it really belonged to the missing PDL. Experts from the National Bureau of Investigation will conduct the forensic examination.

Ngayong araw po na ito, kung ano po ‘yong naamoy ng aso, ‘yan po ang ilalabas natin po mula doon sa septic tank (Today, whatever the dog had sniffed, we will retrieve that from the septic tank),” Bautista said.

The BuCor official said the corpse appeared to have been “chopped” up. Bautista added that they received a tip that the septic tank had been used as a “mass grave,” which is why authorities also concentrated their search there.

Bautista said this was the first time a PDL went missing under the watch of Catapang, who formally assumed in March this year, but has served as BuCor acting chief since October 2022. She added they are creating a list of PDLs who are missing or had escaped from 2019 to date, since the list they have includes missing PDLs or escapees before 2019.

This would not be the first time for authorities to discover cadavers inside the national penitentiary.

During the probe into the Percy Lapid case, the BuCor found around 176 bodies inside Bilibid. The bodies were discovered as authorities worked on the case of Bilibid PDL Jun Villamor, the alleged middleman who ordered Lapid’s killing.

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At the height of the pandemic, dozens died inside the national penitentiary due to unclear causes. In 2022, the NBI revealed that eight high-profile PDLs were the subject of inside job killings – contrary to the BuCor’s official report that the PDLs died of COVID-19.

Aside from the cadaver’s discovery, there was also an incident in Bilibid on July 25, triggered byan altercation between two gangs.

The BuCor official said one PDL named “Abra” was fatally stabbed, while nine others were hurt. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.