SUSPENDED Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) director General Gerald Bantag defended on Thursday, November 17, 2022, the excavation and animals found inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) under the leadership of Bucor officer-in-charge Gregorio Catapang Jr.

In a radio interview, Bantag said he ordered the digging for the construction of the deepest swimming pool in Metro Manila, noting that he is a “master scuba diver.”

He said it is intended for the scuba diving and water rescue training of Bucor personnel to prepare them for any eventualities.

“Nung ako ang warden ng Malabon nagkaroon ng (Tropical Cyclone) Ondoy bumaha doon halos naka-rescue kami doon mga 245 ata ‘yon, so dapat ready ang mga tao ko. Kaya dapat, knowledgeable kami sa water rescue para anytime magka-flood pwedeng gamitin,” said Bantag.

(When I was the warden of Malabon, Tropical Cyclone Ondoy caused flooding there. We rescued about 245 people there, so my people must be ready. We must be knowledgeable in water rescue so that anytime there is a flood, we can use it.)

Bantag said the project was funded by private firm Atom to which Bucor entered a joint venture with.

Business center

Under the agreement, the firm will donate 234 hectares of land in General Tinio where the NBP facility will be transferred.

He said the current NBP compound will then be developed into a business center, in which Bucor will get 35 percent of the earnings while the rest will be for the firm.

Bantag said he informed Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla about the project and asked him to relay it to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

He said according to Remulla, Marcos is not in favor of the project.

Bantag said he approved the project under the former administration, noting that it no longer needs the approval of then justice secretary Menardo Guevarra who earlier said he is unaware of the matter.

Catapang earlier revealed the discovery of a “hole” and “tunnel” inside the NBP near the director’s quarters, which is approximately 200 meters wide and 30 meters deep.

Catapang replaced Bantag after he was implicated in the death of veteran radio broadcaster Percy Lapid.

Bantag was pointed as the alleged mastermind of the killing, which he had repeatedly denied.

'Animals inside Bilibid'

Bantag also explained the animals such as horses, snakes, chickens and gamecocks found inside the Bilibid.

He said the horses were alternative to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that jail personnel use for patrolling as well as for pursuing escaping detainees, while the snakes, which were given to him by his former personnel, were being used for pest control, especially against rats.

Catapang said the animals, which are being taken care of by several inmates, were illegal.

He said they have already tapped concerned government agencies for the conduct of investigation on the digging as well as the animals.

Illegal contrabands

Bantag threw expletives against Catapang who he also called a “magician” when asked about the illegal contrabands found inside the NBP.

Weeks after taking the help of the Bucor, Catapang presented illegal contrabands, mostly cans of beer that they allegedly confiscated inside the Bilibid.

Catapang said each can of beer is being sold for P1,000. The total worth of beers confiscated based on the selling price was at P7 million.

A ploy?

Bantag said these illegal contrabands were planted to embarrass him.

“Pagdating ko doon hirap na hirap ako. Nakakagulat itong si ‘magikero’ Catapang kasi alam nyo nung ako ng ma-appoint jan sa Bucor wala naman akong ganyan kaagad na accomplishment, iibig sabihin, aayusin mo muna kasi ang mga personnel bago ka makapasok sa loob, dahil kailangan mo ayusin personnel na kasabwat,” he said.

(When I got there, it was very difficult. This “magician” Catapang was surprising because, you know, when I was appointed to Bucor, I didn't have that kind of immediate accomplishment, which means you have to fix the personnel first before you get inside. You have to fix your personal accomplice.)

“Hirap pa akong magkaroon ng accomplishment kasi hindi cooperative sakin ang Bucor personnel na nadatnan ko hirap ako galit na galit ako noon. Sabi ko, hindi puwede revamp lang, kailangan complete military take over,” he added.

(It's still difficult for me to have an accomplishment because the Bucor personnel that I met were not cooperative with me, I was struggling, I was very angry at that time. I said it's not possible to just revamp, we need a complete military takeover.)

Bantag said Catapang reinstated several erring Bucor personnel that he disciplined during his time.

Catapang brushed off Bantag’s allegations, saying he wanted to focus on his job instead of responding to Bantag’s claims.

Bantag earlier blamed Remulla and Catapang for his implication on Lapid’s killing, saying they wanted him out of his post for their personal motives. (SunStar Philippines)