Senator Panfilo Lacson on Monday said he has yet to find a good reason to believe that there was foul play involved in the deaths of 19 inmates in the New Bilibid Prison.
"Unless there is very compelling reason to suspect any foul play—and as of now, there is none—personally, I'd rather focus on more pressing matters than be distracted by the death/s of drug convict/s," Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, said in a statement.
He said the Data Privacy Act can be invoked to withhold information about the inmates who supposedly succumbed to COVID-19 as these could cause discrimation against the families of the deceased.
"Although in an inquiry in aid of legislation, we as legislators can ask relevant questions, especially in an executive session," he added.
Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) spokesperson Colonel Gabriel Chaclag said 19 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have already died. He added that the national penitentiary has recorded a total of 343 infected cases as of July 20.
On Sunday, BuCor chief Gerald Bantag also confirmed that there have been persons deprived of liberty inside Bilibid who died of COVID-19. However, he said he could not disclose the names of the deceased as he cited the Data Privacy Act.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he will seek a Senate investigation on the matter so that unanswered questions may be addressed.
Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, on the other hand, said there is no basis yet to launch an investigation.
"So far wala pa akong nakikitang basehan. Wala namang sinasanto ang COVID, kahit na 'yung British Prime Minister tinamaan din," said Dela Rosa, who led the BuCor before being part of the legislative branch.
The Department of Health reminded jail authorities to ensure that health protocols are being followed after the COVID-19-related deaths in the NBP were reported. — RSJ, GMA News