Bantag out of BuCor soon,Catapang replacing him

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JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Monday disclosed that retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. will soon officially assume as director-general of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

In an interview with reporters at BuCor’s office in Muntinlupa City, Remulla told reporters that Catapang’s appointment papers may be released in  “a matter of hours” or until the Cabinet meeting today (Tuesday).

Catapang was appointed BuCor officer-in-charge after then BuCor director-general Gerald Catapang was placed under preventive suspension in October pending investigation as to his alleged involvement in the killing of veteran broadcaster Percy Lapid and alleged middleman in the latter’s killing identified as Jun Villamor, an inmate at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Remulla said Catapang’s appointment was discussed with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Saturday, following the arrival of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. from Davos, Switzerland.

“He [Bantag] will be replaced as BuCor director. It is within the power of the President,” Catapang said.

Asked why it took several months before the President officially appointed Catapang as BuCor chief, Remulla replied: “That’s how it should be. We are not in the business of just replacing people just like that. We have to study everything and wait for the developments to come in for us to really be sure of what we are doing. We need to assess everything.”

Bantag was preventively suspended for 90 days in October  2022 while being investigated for Lapid and Villamor’s deaths.

Last week, Remulla issued another 90-day preventive suspension against Bantag  pending the Justice department’s investigation on the March 30, 2021 interview conducted by the Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) with former Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

Remulla said the suspension was intended to prevent Bantag from “exerting undue influence or pressure on the witnesses” or “tampering of documentary evidence” pending his administrative investigation for the charges of grave misconduct and neglect in the performance of duty.

Palparan is serving a 40-year jail sentence in connection with the  disappearance of two University of the Philippines students in 2006.

The DOJ said the media interview was conducted without complying with Section 4, Chapter 3, Part IV of the BuCor Operating Manual on the process of approval of requests for persons deprived of liberty interview; Sections 3,4,5 (d) and 8, Chapter 3, part IV of the BuCor Operating Manual on the proper procedure/guidelines in regard to the conduct of PDL interviews; and Department Circular No. 015 dated January 27,2017, on the required approval prior to the conduct of PDL interviews.

With Bantag’s imminent ouster, Remulla said the DOJ is  eyeing to secure a precautionary hold departure order (PHDO) to prevent him from leaving the country.

“Yes, we will do that because there are already pending cases being evaluated already by the prosecution and about to be filed in court,” Remulla said.

Image credits: PNA/Yancy Lim