Chief Gerald Bantag could face plunder charges if indeed he pushed through with the contract to dig inside the New Bilibid Prison even if he knew that it was void from the beginning, according to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla.
A nine-story deep hole was discovered at the national penitentiary prompting the ongoing investigation.
“If they tried to execute the contract, this can also constitute some sort of plunder because if they really sold everything they got there, it’s a loss for the government, there is an attempt to get property of government without passing through the process,” said Remulla in a television interview on Tuesday.
In his defense, Bantag said that he ordered the excavation of a diving pool inside the New Bilibid Prison to train jail personnel for disaster response. He claimed to be an expert diver and used his expertise during the onslaught of typhoon “Ondoy” a few years back to rescue people in Caloocan City.
Citing the BuCor Modernization Law, Bantag on Monday said the bureau’s director general has an independent authority to enter into a joint venture agreement even without the approval of the DoJ secretary and the President.
Remulla said then Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra formed a DoJ team that looked into the agreement between the BuCor and Atom Corporation.
A groundbreaking was supposed to take place in December 2020.
Then President Duterte was invited to grace the event but he was advised by Presidential Management Staff not to attend because the agreement is void.
“The DoJ came up with a paper already saying that it’s a void contract,” Remulla said. “It was furnished to Director General Bantag.”
“This Atom Corporation that has been working with him… they are practically executing a void contract, they made the void contract executory,” he added.
Remulla said no one appealed the earlier decision when he took office until he learned of the project in late August or early September this year.
The DoJ still has no estimate as to how much the repair will cost, saying the government still has to purchase filling materials and invest time to cover the hole.
Remulla said the diggings started some six months ago and excavated soil was already removed and transferred somewhere amounting to at least one million cubic meters.
The justice chief said if the government will cover the big hole millions of government money will be spent.
Meanwhile, Remulla denied the claim of Bantag that the murder complaint is being railroaded to pin him down in the slayings of broadcaster Percy Lapid and alleged middleman CristitoVillamor.
He said that while the DoJ will prosecute the controversial twin murders, it is still the court that will decide if Bantag is innocent or not.
“The DoJ’s role is to prosecute so I don’t see where luto (railroading) is. The judge will determine whether or not the case is valid. Drama lang yan. Face the music because that’s what criminal cases are about. You have to account for what you did. I didn’t see merit in what he is saying,” Remulla said.
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