Duterte secures witnesses vs De Lima
NAGA CITY, CEBU—President Duterte on Friday admitted that he ordered the transfer of 10 high-profile inmates who testified against Sen. Leila de Lima from New Bilibid Prison (NBP) to the Philippine Marines headquarters for their safety.
He claimed De Lima, who has been detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City on drug charges for over two years, still had allies at NBP.
“There is an issue that there were some whom I didn’t detain at the penitentiary in Muntinlupa. I had them transferred to the Marines,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech at Barangay Inoburan here during the groundbreaking ceremony for a housing project for victims of last year’s landslide that killed dozens.
“Why? Because I feared that De Lima still had many allies left there and those who testified against her might be slaughtered. Then when the time comes, no one would speak of the truth,” he added.
De Lima, who served as justice secretary under then President Benigno Aquino III, is one of the fiercest critics of the President.
As head of the Commission on Human Rights, she led an investigation of Mr. Duterte’s alleged death squad which executed hundreds of crime suspects in Davao City when he was its mayor.
Drug war killings
De Lima also initiated a Senate inquiry into thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs, which angered the President.
She claims Mr. Duterte instigated the drug charges against her in retaliation for her criticisms and investigations.
Mr. Duterte did not say whether the transferred convicts were being given privileges not enjoyed by regular prisoners.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) should have first secured court permission to transfer the 10 “high-risk” prisoners from the NBP’s maximum security compound to a holding facility of the Marines.
He said he was informed of the BuCor’s plan “a long time ago” but claimed he had not been updated.
“[There is] nothing irregular about that for as long as court approval is secured. Those are already sentenced prisoners so any movement will have to be monitored by the court,” Guevarra told reporters on Friday.
President Duterte also said he had pardoned or commuted the sentences of some other convicts, but he didn’t identify them.
“It’s given [to me] in the Constitution. The power to pardon is absolute. You do not question that,” Mr. Duterte said.
He added: “I will not answer questions why.”
The so-called high-profile prisoners testified against De Lima during the Sept. 20, 2016, inquiry by the House of Representatives into the proliferation of drugs at NBP. They were granted immunity from any legal liabilities their testimonies might entail.
De Lima’s alleged ties to NBP drug kingpin Jaybee Sebastian, leader of the Sigue-Sigue Commandos, one of the prison gangs in NBP, was raised during the hearing.
The criminals who testified were led by convicted robbery gang leader and drug lord Herbert “Ampang” Colanggo, who has been detained at the NBP maximum security compound since 2009. He had worked with other notorious crime syndicates like the Waray-Waray and Ozamis robbery groups.
Colanggo gained notoriety for filming music videos inside prison. In December 2014, his cell, equipped with a music studio, was among those raided by a team headed by De Lima during a crackdown on prisoners living in relative luxury.
Another witness was former Philippine National Police Insp. Rodolfo Magleo, who has been held at NBP since 2004 for kidnapping.
According to his sworn affidavit submitted to the House panel, he was the chair of the Kalasag organization, a group of former PNP officers detained at NBP.
In his testimony, Magleo said that Sebastian helped bankroll De Lima’s senatorial campaign by asking those under his fold to deliver monthly payoffs.
Noel Martinez, a commander of the Genuine Ilocano Group, one of the biggest gangs in the maximum security compound, told the House that the drug trade flourished under Sebastian’s leadership until November 2014.
Murder convict Jojo Baligad, an “adviser” for Batang City Jail gang, said he gave payments from the drug operations amounting to P3.8 million from January 2013 to September 2014.
Also presented were Froilan “Poypoy” Trestiz and Hans Anton Tan.
Tan claimed that a certain Jose Adrian Dera, described as a “nephew and close-in aide” of De Lima, helped in the release of the niece of drug lord Peter Co, and her husband, who were arrested in a buy-bust operation on March 25, 2016.
Co, through Tan, gave Dera P1 million at a casino hotel in Manila for the release of his relatives. Tan claimed he also learned that Co gave Dera “a total of P5 million throughout the entire time until the senatorial elections.” —WITH REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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