LIST: High-profile Bilibid inmates whose deaths are linked to COVID-19, according to BuCor

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 22) — The Bureau of Corrections has released the death certificates of nine high-profile inmates of the New Bilibid Prison whose controversial deaths are being tied to the coronavirus disease.

This is the first time that the beleaguered bureau confirmed the names of the other detainees after announcing the death of Jaybee Sebastian, a convict who confessed to running the Bilibid drug trade and implicated former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima. The lawmaker, who is detained in Camp Crame, denies the drug charges.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, the BuCor presented to the media copies of the death certificates of the following inmates:

• Amin Imam Boratong

• Eugene Ho Chua

• Francis Go

• Benjamin Marcelo

• Sherwin Sanchez

• Willy Yang

• Shuli Zhang

A notice of death was presented for the ninth fatality, Hung Kin Sing Jimmy, also known as Jimmy Ang.

BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag earlier cited the Data Privacy Act and refused to disclose the names of the Chinese and Filipino drug lords who he said died of COVID-19. But the National Privacy Commission said that public interest justifies the release of the information.

Death certificates show COVID-related deaths

According to the documents given to the media, the eight inmates died in May and June, while Sebastian passed away on July 18.

All of them, except the Chinese convict Francis Go, had coronavirus-related complications as cause of death, the documents indicate. Go died of hypoxia and severe pneumonia on May 28, according to his death certificate.

BuCor’s chief doctor, Henry Fabro, suspects that the viral illness entered the highly secured Building 14 through an infected personnel.

“There was a time po na may pumasok sa Building 14 na personnel na duty. Nagpositive po sila sa rapid test. Immediately, we quarantined them,” Fabro said.

[Translation: There was a time when some personnel entered Building 14. They tested positive in the antibody test. Immediately, we quarantined them.]

Ongoing probe

Benjamin Marcelo, the known leader of Chinese inmates in Bilibid, died on June 2, the same date of death of Eugene Ho Chua, another Chinese drug lord.

Marcelo, Chua, Boratong and Sebastian are among the so-called "Bilibid 19" – a group of high-profile convicts who were found with drugs and other contraband items during a controversial raid under De Lima's term in 2014.

As suspicions hound the sudden deaths of the inmates, the BuCor also showed a photo of Sebastian’s remains, but it was not allowed for broadcast due to the ongoing probe and as a sign of respect to the dead and his family.

The National Bureau of Investigation is looking into the deaths of the nine high-profile inmates as some officials fear they could have faked their deaths to get out of jail, or they could have died of other reasons.

A total of 476 inmates died in BuCor facilities this year, 21 of them were due to coronavirus-related complications, but this is nothing out of the ordinary, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in an online media briefing Wednesday. He said it may be slightly higher due to the COVID-19 crisis, but it is still within the usual daily average of two to three inmates dying behind bars.

A Senate probe is scheduled for next week regarding the issue, separate from the ongoing investigation.