Murder, not COVID, hit convicts linked to De Lima, NBI report says

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation has concluded that a workplace murder occurred in the deaths of eight high-level drug convicts inside New Bilibid Prison – contrary to official records from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) who claimed they died of COVID-19 from May to June in 2020.

“They took advantage [of] the situation that in the event of a case of Covid-19, the corpses must be immediately cremated. Cremation, for this case, was the final act to effectively consummate and conceal the scheme to kill the victims,” the NBI said in a press release Tuesday, July 5.

The NBI filed murder complaints against 22 National Capital Region Police (NCRPO) officers who were assigned to Bilibid during this time. While it’s officially up to prosecutors to decide, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla met with acting NBI chief Medardo de Lemos on Monday, July 4, to “find out more about the incident.” , said lawyer Mico Clavano, a representative of Remulla. Office.

“The Secretary of Justice [has a] stern desire to hold everyone involved accountable,” Clavano told reporters on Tuesday.

The eight prisoners were residing in Building 14, a special facility in Bilibid for high-level detainees where Jaybee Sebastian, a key witness in the charges against jailed opposition leader Leila De Lima, also died.

Of the eight drug convicts, at least three – Eugene Chua, Amin Boratong and Benjamin Marcelo – were among the Bilibid convicts De Lima transferred to the NBI from 2014 to 2015 after raids on their cells produced luxury items and even drugs. Included in this group, more commonly known as Bilibid 19, is Peter Co, another key witness against De Lima.

The eight prisoners whose COVID-19 deaths are linked to murder are: Francis Go, Shuli Lim Zhang, Jimmy Ang, Eugene Chua, Benjamin Marcelo, Sherwin Sanchez, Amin Boratong and Willy Yang.

An earlier investigation by Rappler shows they are dead a few days apart from May to June 2020, around the same time that there was also a wave of deaths at the National Penitentiary. Many of them had unknown causes. Sebastian died in July, but the NBI said “the circumstances surrounding Jaybee Sebastian’s death showed that he died of natural causes.”

What happened at the Harry Site

For the eight, the NBI said they were taken to Building 4 at the Harry Site, Bilibid’s special quarantine facility during the pandemic. The eight were taken to what is called the “comfortable isolation room”, after which they all died.

“Witnesses did not observe any unusual situation of the prisoners inside the isolation area, even when their rooms were separated only by curtains or plywood,” the NBI said.

According to the NBI, NCRPO officers said the eight were in an emergency situation and even needed nursing interventions from them.

The NBI also found that a “significant period of time passed before the victims were taken to the nearest hospital”.

“All deceased prisoners were pronounced dead on arrival, the cause of death being either cardiac arrest or pulmonary arrest. However, a careful examination of the medical profile of high-level prisoners who died generally revealed that a few days before their death they had no chronic symptoms of Covid-19, including difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, nor were they weak. . or particularly sick,” the NBI said.

The NBI added: “Witnesses had seen them fine, normal or alive.”

“We will study the report,” Remulla said. Clavano was unsure whether the complaint filed with prosecutors would be put on hold while Remulla investigated, or whether the attorney general’s investigation would focus on the liability of organic BuCor officials, not just the police officers assigned at the time.

De Lima remains on trial on two additional counts of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trafficking, rooted in the narrative that she allowed drug trafficking to flourish inside Bilibid during her tenure as justice secretary to receive bribes. three witnessesincluding two star witnesses for the prosecution, retracted. The third account was thrown by a court in Muntinlupa.

Prosecutors can drop the charges. Remulla said earlier that dropping the charges is “possible if it’s the only recourse.”

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