Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III filed a resolution calling for a Senate investigation into the deaths of some high-profile Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) inmates allegedly due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

In his resolution, Sotto said the BuCor needs to face many “unanswered questions” regarding the death of the high-profile inmates, including Jaybee Sebastian, who was convicted of kidnap for ransom and carnapping but remained influential while incarcerated.

Sebastian is one of the government’s witnesses in its drug case against jailed Senator Leila de Lima.  He testified in 2016 accusing the senator as a “protector” of drug operations inside the Bilibid. The senator has denied the accusations.

Sotto also cited information from Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga that the remains of the deceased convicts were not autopsied and that the body bags containing the remains were not opened before they were immediately cremated at the Panteon de Dasmariñas.

Cremation of the remains of Covid-19 victims should be done within 12 hours after death according to health protocols to prevent the spread of the viral disease.

“While BuCor Chief Gerald Bantag has confirmed that there were persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who died due to Covid-19, he did not disclose their identities as it is, according to him, is prohibited under the Data Privacy Act,” he said in his resolution.

Sotto added that an unnamed ranking police official, who was aware of the supposed Covid-19 deaths, said the BuCor ‘could have just replaced the body [with another inmate and declared the death of a high-profile inmate].’

“How would we know? There were no fingerprints,” Sotto quoting the police official said.

“Why no autopsies? Were relatives informed? Why was the DOJ [Department of Justice] not informed?” Sotto told reporters.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun also asked about the death certificate.

“Due to the unclear, inaccurate, and unverfied reports, speculations are now being made as to whether or not these NBP inmates actually died due to Covid-19,” Sotto’s resolution read.

BuCor chief Gerald Bantag refused to confirm if Sebastian was among the high-profile inmates who died due to COVID-19, citing the Data Privacy Act.

Bantag appeared before the Justice Department on Monday to explain the reported deaths of the high-profile inmates.

Nineteen Bilibid inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have already died, according to BuCor spokesperson Colonel Gabriel Chaclag.  The Bilibid has recorded a total of 343 infected cases, as of July 20. (Rommel F. Lopez)