EconomyEditor's PickSuspended prison chief to be permanently replaced 

January 23, 2023

SUSPENDED Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald T. Bantag, who is facing murder charges and other complaints, is set to be discharged from the post, according to the country’s Justice secretary. 

“He [Mr. Bantag] will be replaced already and it is within the power of the President,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told reporters on Monday based on an audio recording.   

Mr. Remulla said acting BuCor chief Gregorio Pio P. Catapang will be nominated for the post.  

“We are not in the business of replacing people just like that,” he added. “We have to study everything… and be sure of what we are doing.” 

The Justice secretary said he would bring up Mr. Catapang’s appointment as BuCor chief with President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.  

Mr. Bantag has been charged over the killings of local broadcaster Percival C. Mabasa and a middleman in the incident. He is also facing raps for allegedly torturing two inmates at the national penitentiary.   

Jail guards from the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Palawan also filed abuse-related charges against him last week.  

Mr. Bantag had denied his involvement in the murder, saying he had nothing to gain from it. A panel of government prosecutors is set to resume the preliminary investigation of the killing on Tuesday.  

The Justice secretary last week imposed an additional 90-day suspension on Mr. Bantag for allowing jailed ex-military general Jovito S. Palparan, Jr. to appear in a televised interview, which violated BuCor rules. 

The acting prison chief, who was appointed office-in-charge in October, previously served as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  

“My next marching orders are the regionalization of our prisons and to form a roadmap of reforms for 2023 up to 2028,” he added. 

RELEASEMeanwhile, the prison bureau released 340 inmates on Monday as part of its ongoing efforts to decongest jails.  

The Philippine government has freed more than 3,400 inmates since June last year, according to BuCor data sent to reporters.  

Mr. Marcos earlier ordered the Department of Justice to release more prisoners, especially those who cannot afford good lawyers. 

Mr. Remulla has said the government plans to release at least 5,000 inmates by this year to decongest one of the world’s most crowded jails. 

Many of the country’s jails fail to meet the UN’s minimum standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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