High-profile convict Jaybee Sebastian testifies in Congress against Sen. Leila de Lima during the 2016 probe on the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison. The NBP reported that Sebastian died of acute myocardial infarction related to COVID-19 at the NBP Hospital on Friday. The body was not autopsied and was cremated the following day, fueling specula- tion that he was murdered. The DOJ is now investigating a spate of deaths in the NBP, particu- larly of high-profile inmates.- STAR/File
“The 2019 Plague” Day 234
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating reports of a recent spate of deaths, particularly of high-profile inmates, at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), an official said yesterday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he summoned Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag to his office at 1:30 p.m. today to discuss “all about recent deaths at the NBP, COVID-related or otherwise,” referring to the coronavirus disease 2019.
Part of the discussion would focus on the deaths of nine high-profile inmates, among them that of Jaybee Niño Sebastian, who was convicted of kidnapping and carjacking in 2009.
According to a death certificate obtained by members of media, Sebastian was 40 when he died of acute myocardial infarction related to COVID-19 at the NBP Hospital on Friday.
However, there are reports that Sebastian – who testified that then justice secretary Leila de Lima allegedly received money from the illegal drug trade in the NBP – was executed because he refused to stop running his drug deals from within the prison.
His body was not autopsied and was cremated on Saturday.
On July 15, the DOJ reported that out of 343 COVID-19 cases at the NBP and the Correctional Institution for Women, a total of 18 inmates died and 323 have recovered.
When asked if there were third-party eyewitnesses when an inmate is cremated to confirm the inmate’s identity – to avoid speculation that the death is a coverup to let the inmate escape – Guevarra said he would ask Bantag to explain all BuCor protocols during the meeting.
“We are looking at several theories. I expect that there are existing protocols whenever deaths occur inside the prisons,” he added.
Bantag admitted there had been inmates who died because of COVID-19 but said he could not disclose their names, citing the Data Privacy Act.
Sebastian’s body, placed inside a cadaver bag, was brought to the Panteon de Dasmariñas, a public cemetery in Dasmariñas City, Cavite that offers cremation, by the BuCor at around 9:22 p.m. on Saturday and was cremated, said cemetery administrator Liezl Camaganacan.
The glass box containing his ashes stayed there overnight, with BuCor pledging to pick it up last night, she added.
She was not aware of Sebastian’s high-profile status until she received around 15 calls from the media yesterday asking her to confirm his death, she told The STAR.
The cemetery had been accepting BuCor’s requests for the cremation of inmates who died from COVID-19 “since the last week of May,” she said, as the agency allegedly struggled to look for available crematoria.
Turning to drugs
Sebastian was among the “Bilibid 19” inmates who were reported to have lived lavishly, with a swimming pool built in his kubol. The structure was dismantled by De Lima in 2014.
He was known as the leader of the Commando jailhouse gang and allegedly led the illegal drug trade in the state penitentiary.
He later testified against De Lima, alleging that she collected P70 million from the proceeds of the NBP drug trade to fund her senatorial campaign. De Lima has denied the allegations.
De Lima – along with former BuCor officials and high-profile inmates like Sebastian – is currently facing three charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading, all being heard in three courts in Muntinlupa City.