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Aquino lets go of Diokno

DoJ panel eyes raps vs 10 execs of BuCor

MANILA, Philippines—Friendship couldn’t save him.

Twelve days after a television camera caught a high-profile convicted killer moving around in the Makati City business district, President Benigno Aquino III on Monday announced the resignation of his longtime friend, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Ernesto Diokno, praising him for heeding his conscience.

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Mr. Aquino announced Diokno’s “irrevocable resignation” on national television after their 20-minute meeting in Malacañang and after he received a Department of Justice report tagging 11 people responsible for the out-of-prison caper of former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste.

Diokno’s resignation came a week after he said in an interview on 990AM DZIQ Radyo Inquirer that he had no intention of quitting. “I will not resign from my post. I am not guilty,” he said on May 24. “What they’re saying about command responsibility does not apply to me.”

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In a short statement in Filipino, Mr. Aquino recalled his long ties with Diokno and added: “Our resolve has always been clear: Only the interest of the people guides our decisions, and not our association or friendship with anyone.”

The President described his meeting with Diokno before accepting his resignation as an “emotional moment.” He also admitted there was “a possibility” he would appoint Diokno, a retired police officer, to another position, but he did not elaborate.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima welcomed Diokno’s decision to quit his post, saying it was “the most honorable and selfless way to address the issue.”

As if offering a bit of a consolation, De Lima said the fact-finding panel, which looked into the liability of BuCor officials in connection with the May 18 “prison break” of Leviste, did not recommend the filing of any criminal charges against Diokno.

“That resignation is actually expected … (It’s a) graceful exit, you know,” she told reporters.

De Lima said Diokno’s act saved the government from having to go through a tedious legal process concerning the issue of VIP treatment of influential prisoners.

“If he did not resign, there will be greater pressure coming from many quarters. They will not spare the Palace and the Office of the President,” she said.

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10 others face raps

De Lima said the fact-finding committee suggested the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Leviste’s custodial guard, Faustino Justo.

In his testimony before the panel, Justo denied that he had consented to Leviste’s unauthorized trips outside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

A news television camera caught Leviste near his Makati office. He claimed he had left prison on an emergency because he was suffering from a toothache.

Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, who supervised the panel’s inquiry, said at least 10 other BuCor officials would be slapped with administrative charges. He declined to identify them.

“Let’s wait for our report to be released by Malacañang. But there is no recommendation as to the criminal liability of Director Diokno,” De Lima said.

Diokno’s ‘delicadeza’

Diokno’s resignation was the latest of a series of departures from the 11-month-old Aquino administration.

In August last year, Mr. Aquino sacked Pagasa weather bureau administrator Prisco Nilo after the agency’s “way off the mark” forecast of the path of Typhoon “Basyang.”

In November, Tourism Undersecretary Vicente Romano III resigned over the controversial “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” tourist promotion campaign, which met with public derision, and sparked allegations that it was copied from Poland’s “Polska” tourism logo.

In a news conference aired live nationwide on government radio and television, the President thanked Diokno “for his service and for his delicadeza for resigning.”

He said Diokno’s resignation would pave the way for reforms he wanted to implement in the correctional system.

Ties with Diokno

Mr. Aquino also said his administration had made it clear from the very start that being in the government “requires honesty and responsibility.”

He vowed the Leviste caper would be reviewed so as to correct prison regulations.

Mr. Aquino said he knew Diokno since way back when the latter was the deputy chief of the Western Police District.

“We go a long way. He was with us, standing with us during the coup,” the President said, referring to the coup attempts against his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino.

‘My eyes, my ears’

When he first confronted Diokno of the Leviste incident two weeks ago, Mr. Aquino said he asked him “how he should understand what happened.”

“(I told him) I was depending on you there. That’s why I put you there. You were my eyes, my ears, you were supposed to act on the policies,” he said.

Mr. Aquino admitted that he felt “some compassion” for Diokno as the latter took on a big job and had inherited a lot of problems at BuCor, including the “living-out” status given to some prisoners.

The President said he asked De Lima if there was indeed a living-out regulation at the NBP and was told that there seemed to be such an arrangement in the “old manual.”

But he said the current manual did not include any living-out provision. “In effect, this meant, instead of a regulation, this would depend on the liking of the director of BuCor,” he said.

This was what confronted Diokno at BuCor, Mr. Aquino said.

Best form of apology

He said his conversation with Diokno “boiled down to one question.”

“I told him, ‘How should I understand this? If you knew this was happening, why did you not act on it? If you did not know about it, how can I explain you did not know?’” Mr. Aquino said.

The President said now was the time to look for a BuCor chief that could push for reforms immediately.

Asked whether Diokno apologized to him, the President that he thought Diokno felt bad about what happened.

“His act of resigning is the best form of apology,” Mr. Aquino said.

He also said Diokno “recognized” that the Leviste caper was a “blow” to the administration.

De Lima said the fact-finding panel’s 36-page report included an eight-page cover memorandum which contained her own additional recommendations.

“But I adopted all the findings and recommendations of the panel,” she said. With a report from Miko Morelos

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), Ernesto Diokno, former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste, Penal system, Prison, prison break, resignation, VIP Prisoners
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