PDEA chief confirms: Drug lord did business in prison
MANILA, Philippines — A convicted drug lord traded illegal drugs from behind bars using mobile phones, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino confirmed on Monday at a Senate hearing, during which he urged senators to check for similar activities in provincial and city jails.
At the hearing, which tackled the 2020 budget of PDEA, Aquino said that PDEA was able to record sometime in 2018 a conversation between a drug lord detained at the New Bilibid Prison and a buyer.
The convicted drug lord was talking to a woman who asked how much 10 kilograms of drugs was worth. The drug lord replied that it was P1.3 million per kilogram, Aquino said.
This was not an isolated incident, he said.
“You can see their names on Facebook, on Messenger. They have their own accounts on Facebook,” Aquino said.
The PDEA discovered the drug lord’s activities when it still had an office in the Bureau of Correction premises in Muntinlupa from November 2017 to April 2018, he said.
“We were able to listen to a lot of conversations and transactions inside with the help of [the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency],” he said.
The PDEA no longer has the capability to tap the conversations of jailed drug lords because it no longer had an office in the BuCor, he said.
He explained that PDEA had to move out of that office because of “bad blood” between him and then BuCor Director General Nicanor Faeldon, whom President Rodrigo Duterte sacked last August.
On learning this, the senators decided to put the PDEA back in Muntinlupa by allocating funds for the construction of its own building there.
Bato’s security concerns
When Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa became BuCor chief at the end of April 2018, the PDEA office was moved to another place because that office was in the compound where the bureau chief had his quarters.
Dela Rosa had security concerns about the location of the PDEA office because his family was staying with him in his quarters.
Aquino said the new designated place was “not ideal” and that PDEA was unable to build a new building there.
After less than six months, Faeldon replaced Dela Rosa. All the more the PDEA was unable to set up shop in the BuCor, Aquino said.
“During the time of Faeldon, I attempted [to], but Faeldon and I had bad blood,” he said.
Aquino told the committee, however, that the PDEA would need to have an office in the BuCor, but the agency had nothing in its budget to build an office there.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon then suggested that the Senate panel handling the PDEA budget add an amount to the agency’s budget for the construction of a PDEA office in the BuCor.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the panel, backed the idea.
“We’re supporting that in terms of budgeting,” Lacson told reporters. “We are in full support of that effort to establish a presence inside the penitentiary.”
Check other jails
Aquino said officials should also look into similar activities being conducted in provincial and city jails, which are under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), as the PDEA itself could not do so easily.
“One reason why I said that is that we can’t conduct our own greyhound operations [drug and contraband raids] freely. It will take us hours before we can enter a jail,” he said.
This prompted Lacson to note that jailed Rolando Espinosa, who was mayor of Albuera, Leyte, was quickly killed by Supt. Marvin Marcos during a police raid on his detention cell on Nov. 5, 2016.
Last week, an inmate testified before the Senate inquiry that convicted drug lords paid prison officials and employees to stay for a prolonged time in the Bilibid hospital where they could conduct their illegal drug trading using cell phones.
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