Latest Stories

10 gangs hold key to the good life in prison


JAIL INSPECTION. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is greeted by maximum security inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City during an inspection with lawmakers. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

MANILA, Philippines—They may be kept under lock and key in the maximum security compound, but they themselves hold the key to a good life in the national penitentiary, including watching DVDs of the hit US TV series “Prison Break.”

Gangs lording it over at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) control a series of kubol (cubicles) occupied by wealthy inmates, including Chinese drug lords.

“The guards themselves don’t have the keys. The inmates hold the keys,” Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. fumed after a 45-minute inspection on Tuesday of the 536-hectare state penitentiary in Muntinlupa City by members of the House justice committee.

Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo said prison rules were regularly being ignored, noting that he found DVDs of “Prison Break” in one of the kubol, as well as a documentary on the history of the Nazis, themes banned for recreational viewing.

Jail officials admitted at the House committee hearing later that they had relinquished much of the operational control at the heavily guarded facility to 10 gangs and to their leaders the task of maintaining order.


Supt. Ramon Reyes, the NBP chief, described the arrangement as a “best practice” to keep the peace and prevent riots.

But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who joined the inspection and attended the hearing, said the system was “not acceptable.”

“The gang system is perhaps acceptable. What is not acceptable is to allow them to take control of what is happening inside the compound. The NBP seems to have a very limited supervision and control of the gangs,” De Lima said.

At the hearing, she ordered the dismantling within the day of the special cubicles occupied by convicted Chinese drug lords and the rest in the next few weeks. She threatened to file insubordination charges if her order was not carried out by Wednesday.

Each of the 14 buildings in the maximum security compound is under the control of a gang. The compound has a capacity of 6,000 but houses 12,000 inmates.

Led by De Lima and justice committee chair Niel Tupas Jr., the officials visited a building controlled by the Batang City Jail (BCJ) gang.

VIP amenities

They observed that while most of the cells were crammed, there were separate special cubicles with plywood partitions and apparently occupied by only one or two inmates. These had amenities, such as an electric fan, a couch and even a play area.

One cubicle had wall-to-wall mirrors that the lawmakers described as like those in a hotel. There were also toilets for the exclusive use of “VIP” inmates.

Asked about the “VIP” label, Reyes said this was an arrangement of the gangs and not of the jail guards.

At the hearing, BCJ commander Froilan Trestiza, who was invited along with three other inmates, defended the gang system, saying they policed their own ranks and cooperated with the jail officers in detecting violations, such as drug activities.

Reyes admitted that there was a “double standard” for inmates with money and those without. Generally, moneyed prisoners are allowed to have kubol constructed regardless of their sentence, the crime they were charged with or their nationality.

Operational nightmare

Reyes cited a previous plan of resigned Bureau of Corrections director Ernesto Diokno, who was also at the hearing, to dismantle these kubol and transfer their occupants to another building.

But the plan has not been implemented because the building is still under renovation.

De Lima told reporters that the demolition of all the kubol would entail plenty of planning and involve the possible deployment of soldiers to secure the process.

“That’s the operational nightmare. That’s what General Diokno proposed, but they found it hard to implement because they couldn’t figure out where to transfer them,” she said.

De Lima said the officials should also ensure that guards in the new quarters were reliable and competent and would not be bribed or influenced by drug lords. Also, she cited a need for adequate equipment like closed-circuit television cameras.

The secretary said she liked a suggestion that three-decker beds be used once all the kubol had been dismantled. “It will still be congested but not as bad as the present,” she said.

Entrenched gang system

Reyes said De Lima’s order to dismantle the kubol in so short a time would be difficult to implement, citing a shortage of personnel and lack of equipment.

De Lima said the gang system had become so entrenched they had developed some sort of independence from the jail authorities.

“What happened here is it’s like all these gangs became autonomous all these years they were left on their own. They do their own thing. They are coming up with their own rules,” she said.

De Lima earlier said she had received information that some drug kingpins in the NBP had been bribing jail officials P3 million to P5 million in exchange for having their rivals transferred to far-flung penal colonies. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana, Tina G. Santos and Jerome Aning

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Gangs , inmates , Justice Secretary Leila de Lima , national penitentiary , New Bilibid Prison , Prison

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  2. Cagayan mayor shot dead after flag-raising ceremony
  3. Obama, family cause a small stir at Easter service
  4. Santiago sees Palace hand in Gigi’s return
  5. ‘Malang’ next crocodile attraction after ‘Lolong’
  6. Gigi Reyes’ only option: tell all
  7. Malaysia Airlines jet turns back after tire burst
  8. Ancient enigmatic carvings in danger of disappearing
  9. New plant to boost supply of clean energy
  10. More bodies from ship; transcript reveals wavering
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  5. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  6. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  7. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  8. Massive infra spending set
  9. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  10. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  9. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  10. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia


  • Saudi Arabia reports 3 more deaths from MERS virus
  • Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  • Why are Americans obsessed with missing plane?
  • Napoles to have surgery on Tuesday – report
  • Mayor’s assassination linked to black sand mining controversy
  • Sports

  • PBA D-League: Waves edge skidding Superchargers
  • Ilad’s last-second basket lifts Gems over Bakers
  • Reigning champs Miami open playoffs with win
  • Spurs subdue Mavericks in playoff opener
  • Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo Masters
  • Lifestyle

  • Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Entertainment

  • Arrest warrants out vs. Deniece Cornejo, Cedric Lee, et al over serious illegal detention
  • Lindsay Lohan says she had a miscarriage
  • Discovery network cancels Everest jump
  • ‘Captain America’ stays strong atop US box office
  • Easter musings
  • Business

  • Century Pacific Food sets IPO price at P13.75 per share
  • Oil prices down in quiet Asian trade
  • Asian shares mixed in holiday-thinned trade
  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Technology

  • PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  • Nintendo’s trailblazing Game Boy marks 25th anniversary
  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Filipinos in Middle East urged not to panic amid MERS-CoV scare
  • Obama on mission to quiet Asia skeptics
  • Search for Etihad passengers launched
  • Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • Marketplace