Aquino vows: Justice to prevail over loyalty in prisons chief Diokno’s case
BANGKOK, Thailand—President Aquino said jail officials accused of granting VIP treatment to some inmates may be in for a “surprise” in the coming days.
“With regards to the issue of special treatment, let’s just say that although I’m not into surprises, I’m planning to surprise somebody,” the President told Manila-based reporters who covered his state visit here on Thursday night.
“And because it’s a surprise, I won’t tell you anything,” he said, smiling.
Aquino also assured the public that respect for legal processes would take precedence over loyalty in determining the fate of his long-time friend, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director Ernesto Diokno, who drew flak for the controversial “prison break” of convicted killer and former Batangas governor Jose Antonio Leviste.
The President admitted his close relationship with the embattled prisons official, who served as director of the Manila Police District, then known as the Western Police District (WPD), during the presidency of his late mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, in the late 1980s.
Aquino said he would wait for the recommendations of the fact-finding panel created by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima before passing judgment on Diokno.
He said he reminded Diokno that he was particularly concerned about the supposed VIP treatment accorded to some rich and influential inmates of the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) when he appointed him to his post.
“You know he (Diokno) had been through a lot. He started as deputy district director of the (WPD) during the time of my mother. So if we’re talking about loyalty, there’s no question about it,” Aquino said.
“From what I remember, I already told him about the special treatment. I’m sure he knows me. As I have told you before, it’s important for me that everything is done according to the process,” he continued.
Observers said the President’s closeness with Diokno might save the latter from accountability, just like how Aquino protected his shooting buddy, Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, and political ally Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim from facing criminal and administrative charges for the botched handling of the Aug. 23, 2010, Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis.
De Lima, who headed the Incident Investigation and Review Committee, recommended the filing of cases against Puno, Lim and other police officials for their slipshod reaction that led to the killing of eight Chinese hostages.
De Lima did not hide her disappointment over Malacañang’s decision not to sue Puno et al. But in Diokno’s case, the outspoken justice secretary said she believed that Aquino “will do the right thing at the proper time.”
The five-member panel investigating Leviste’s caper concluded its inquiry on Wednesday. The President said he was expecting De Lima to furnish him a copy of the findings as soon as possible.
A few days after National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents arrested Leviste outside the building he owns in Makati City on May 18, the President made it known that he was not satisfied with Diokno’s explanation how the former government official was able to leave the NBP premises without authorization.
The chief executive said he could not understand why the BuCor chief was clueless on Leviste’s violation of prison rules and why he failed to stop the prisoner’s indiscretions.
“I have given him a chance to explain his position. If it’s not satisfactory, then only one thing would happen,” the President said, without elaborating.
“I grew up during martial law when only one person’s rules were followed. Now, we have the policies and legal processes that should be observed.”
Meanwhile, the President said he ordered a legal study on several proposals on NBP’s future, such as relocating the state penitentiary to Taytay, Rizal.
He said he instructed De Lima to find the appropriate approach to address not only the issue on special privileges, but the 300-percent congestion of the NBP.
At present, he said some prison cells of the NBP, meant for only 35 inmates, have been cramped with 140 prisoners.
The President said the government must determine the effect of relocating the NBP to the families visiting their detained relatives and to the rehabilitation of prisoners.
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