Five corrections officers of IPPF after filing the case against former BuCor chief Gerald Bantag and other officials on Friday. |Photo from PTV Facebook page

Five corrections officers of the Iwahig and Penal Farm (IPPF) have filed criminal charges against suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag in the Department of Justice (DOJ) for alleged abuses, including torture, some two years ago.

The officers cited torture complaints filed Friday during Bantag’s management in 2020. Aside from Bantag, BuCor deputy security officer Supt. Ricardo Zulueta, former BuCor spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag, and jail guards Victor Erick Pascua, Bayani Allaga, Rose Marie Casion, Jayferson Bon-as, Joel Arnold, Kanoy Lattot, Ave Akilit, Edgar Angeles Jr., and Michale Marzan were all named in the case.

Bantag and other officials were accused of torture, oral defamation, grave threats, grave coercion, and obstruction of justice. According to COI Richie Canja, one of the complainants, the incident cited occurred on March 1 and 2, 2020.

“Noong una pa, gusto na namin gawin ‘yan (mag-file ng kaso) kaya lang wala talaga kaming mapagsabihan, wala rin kaming kakayahan. Unang-una, under pressure kaming lahat, ultimo ‘yong opsiyal namin ng BuCor noong panahon ni DG Bantag, walang magawa. Puro tao niya ‘yong nakatao ang nakaupo sa lahat ng colony,” Canja said.

The other complainants were corrections officers Lazaro Rafols Jr., Jer Sajid Mojado, Eddie Jimenez Jr., and Roy Gacasa. The complainants decided to pursue the case as Bantag is now out of the service as chief of BuCor, Canja said.

“Sino pa hihingian namin ng mga payo kung ‘yong pinakamataas na ‘yon ang gumawa sa amin ng mga karahasan? Kaya ‘yon ang nagtulak sa akin, sabi ko sa mga kasama ko—alam ko na mahirap sitwasyon natin kasi napakalaking tao ni Bantag, kilalang-kilalang tao ‘yan. Pero kung mananahimik lang tayo, sino pa ‘yong lalaban para sa atin?” he stressed.

This case follows the charges filed earlier this month by BuCor Officer-in-Charge Gregorio Catapang against Bantag for criminal and administrative charges.

Confession

Canja recalled assuming his duty as close-in security for former IPPF Supt. Raul Levita on March 1, 2020, at the Iwahig sub-colony. At around 8 a.m., while standing at Quarter 1, he said he heard a sound of guns being cocked from the barracks beside Quarter 2, which was Bon-as’ quarter at that time.

Bon-as was one of the officers from the Bureau of Jail and Management Prison (BJMP) hand-picked by BuCor director general Gerald Bantag to be assigned to the IPPF as part of his “monitoring representatives” in 2020.

“Nasanay na kami na every time, mahilig kasi magkasa-kasa ‘yong grupo nila kaya naging normal na lang sa amin ‘yon. Hindi ko ini-expect na i-a-assault pala nila ako noong time na ‘yon,” he said.

From a distance of about seven-meters, Canja said he heard Bon-as shouting “P*ta** *na mo, ngayon bumunot ka, mamamatay ka,” towards him. Bon-as along with his companions, Lattot and Akilit, disarmed Canja after their confrontation.

“Nakuha nila ‘yong dalawang mahaba ko tapos hinawakan ako noong dalawa. Habang itong si Bon-as, may sinasabi pa siya na paulit-ulit na mayabang ka, PI, ngayon mo ipakita ‘yong tapang mo. Pinapaupo niya ako, hindi ako umupo. Tinatanong ko bakit ganon– tapos no’n sunod-sunod na ang suntok niya sa akin at tinutusok niya na ako ng baril sa dibdib ko. Nong time na ‘yon, wala na rin ako magawa, napaupo na rin ako,” he added.

He said he was threatened by Bon-as shouting, “Yong tapang mo rito, susubukan ko yan sa National Bilibid Prisons (NBP).”

When then-superintendent Levita heard about what happened, he told Canja to take it easy, as he would handle the situation. He was on his way to another security official when he bumped into two other colleagues who also learned about the incident and told him to file a blotter.

“No’ng nag-uusap kami no’n, nakita namin ang sasakyan nila Bon-as na palabas sana. No’ng nakita naman kami nila Bon-as, umatras ‘yong sasakyan nila at do’n na naman nagsimula ‘yong nagkabarilan kami,” Canja said. Recalling Bon-as team was first to shoot the gun, which forced Canja and his companions to do also in return.

Bon-as and other involved officials were told to return to Manila by the afternoon, while Canja and other IPPF corrections officials were told to report to the NBP by March 2.

Canja believed that Bon-as’ behavior towards him was connected to a brawling incident on January 31, 2020, involving Bon-as and then corrections technical senior superintendent Dr. Amador Perez Jr.

Former BuCor spokesperson Chaclag said during his visit to IPPF on February 11, 2020, that the incident should be settled internally. Canja stated that Dr. Perez also filed a case at that time but did not succeed.

Canja was the dancing corrections officer at the time, so he was a familiar face online.

Canja’s encounter with Bantag

Canja and the other corrections officers said that Chaclag and Bon-as met them outside the headquarters and took them to Bantag’s office on the second floor.

“Pagdating namin doon nakahilera na ang mga tao niya. Lahat ng personnel ng BuCor, bawal umakyat sa taas. Kami lang anim ang BuCor personnel nandoon, sinisigawan nila ‘yong mga tropa ng makita nila, binody search na kami,” he said.

Canja’s team entered Bantag’s office “tinanong kami kung kami ‘yong mga taga-Palawan na matatapang.”

“Ang masakit doon, pare-pareho lang naman kaming tao ni DG Bantag, siya ‘yong tumatayo na kawanian ng bilangguan. Sana hindi siya naging one-sided, kasi sa harap ng mga nang-api sa amin dito–naapakan na talaga ‘yong buong pagkatao namin,” he said.

“Sinasabi niya na ‘yong pamilya raw namin ipapadukot niya raw, tapos gusto raw ba namin barurutin ‘yong mga asawa namin sa harap namin. Tapos kung kilala namin ang demonyo, mas demonyo pa siya sa demonyo. Pakiramdam [namin] wala talaga kaming malapitan,” he said.

He remembered Bantag’s telling in front of him that they ambushed his personnel in IPPF and burned their alpha team, which Canja claimed as his personnel’s alibi. He tried to explain his side, but instead received punches and headbutts from Bantag, Canja added.

“Paglapit sa amin ni DG Bantag, may dala-dala na siyang kutsilyo. Paghubad niya ng barong, lumapit siya sa amin–pagkatapos niya matanong si CO2 Mojado at CO2 Gacasa, noong sa akin na, ‘yon na yong galit na galit siya ‘P*t*ng **a mo, wag ka na magsalita, kilala na kita.’ Sabay unday ng saksak sa akin,” he added.

After his turn, another officer next to him was also confronted and also received punches.

“Kapag kinukwento ko ‘yong nangyari sa amin ni Bon-as, mas lalo siyang nagagalit. Pinagsusuntok ako. Kung ako lang sana, okay lang na ako yong masaktan kasi ako ang punot’ dulo nang pagpunta namin doon. Pero pati yong mga kasama ko, nadamay lang sila kasi nakisimpatya lang sila sa nangyari,” he said.

They thought the assault was over when they left Bantag’s office, until they were ordered to face the wall and told to remove their upper garments while wearing their general office attire (GOA), he said. Lattot brought Canja to tower 14 in ‘bridge position,’ where he was also punched.

“Sinama nila ako sa mga kasama ko sa pasilyo, naka-push up position sila, pinagsisipa sila. Noong sinama ako, paulit-ulit nila sinasabi na matatapang daw kami, patunayan daw namin. More or less one hour, pinatayo naman kami tapos pinagpartner-partner kami habang nagtatawanan sila. Ginawa kaming parang kalabaw, pinagsungayan kami– tapos inutusan kami na magbigayan ng suntok. Pag mahina ang suntok namin sa partner namin, sinusuntok nila ang mahina ang suntok kaya napipilitan kami na sumunod sa instruction nila,” he narrated.

Canja and other corrections officers were assigned to the maximum compound in March 2020 and only ordered back to IPPF on July 2020.

“Kung hindi ka itapon, ilalagay ka sa mahirap na sitwasyon, lipatan. Marami ang nalipat sa amin noong panahon nila kaya walang isang BuCor personnel ang naglakas ng loob na magpakita sa kanila kahit pinagmamalupitan nila o nagawan nila ng hindi maganda. Kasi ganoon ang nangyayari, sila ang pinakamakapangyarihan. Sino ba naman kami, director general yan ng BuCor,” Canja said.

Cases filed

“Yong sakit ng pisikal, kasama talaga–pero ‘yong idamay ang pamilya, pati pamilya namin, masakit na ‘yon. Traumatic talaga, physically, emotionally, at psychologically ay nasaktan kami. Kahit matagal ng panahon ‘yong pangyayari na ‘yon, sabi ko nga kung hindi natin ilalahad sa publiko,” he said.

Aside from complaints filed by Canja and his team in DOJ, he also filed a separate case for three counts of attempted murder against Bon-as, Arnold, Lattot and Akilit at the Office of the City Prosecutor on January 11. The separate case was citing the March 1, 2020 incident that happened in IPPF.

“Sa amin, hustisya lang. Ayaw ko na mabalitaan na meron pang susunod na makaranas ng panggigipit at kawalan ng respeto,” Canja said.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.