House justice body: Bilibid drugs flourished under De Lima’s watch
The House of Representatives justice committee in a report said it was able to establish that the illicit drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) flourished under the watch of then justice secretary now Senator Leila de Lima.
In the report that was forwarded to the plenary on Wednesday for approval in today’s session, the committee said “the investigation has clearly established the proliferation of drug syndicates and illegal drug trade in the NBP during the watch of then-DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima.”
The committee said all the witnesses, who were convicts and inmates at the Bilibid, pointed at De Lima’s involvement in the proliferation of drugs at the national penitentiary.
But the committee, which concluded its grueling inquiry into the proliferation of drugs at the Bilibid, which took 47 hours divided in four days, fell short in recommending charges against De Lima and other Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials.
The committee said the inquiry, prompted by a resolution filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, was in aid of legislation, thus leaving the recommendation for criminal charges to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Ombudsman.
“All of the evidence point to her (De Lima’s) involvement and possible accountability in these illegal activities. However, the determination of probable cause to support the filing of appropriate charges against her is a function of the Department of Justice and/or the Ombudsman,” the committee said in its report in the recommendations portion.
“Thus, the Committee leaves to the sound discretion of the DOJ and/or the Ombudsman the determination of whether appropriate charges should be filed against her, noting that several complaints have already been filed against her by certain groups,” it added.
There was a brief mention of the inmates’ allegations that De Lima raised campaign funds through the drug trade in the report, which mainly focused on the special treatment accorded to inmates by the Bilibid officials who were under their payroll.
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The committee said the “confluence of events and circumstances point in no uncertain terms the veracity of the statement of witnesses that during the tenure of then-Sec. De Lima between 2012 and 2015, a fund-raising activity transpired to finance her senatorial bid in 2016.”
The committee said in her refusal to attend the hearing, as well as her refusal to reply to the invitation sent by the committee, De Lima “may have given the impression of evading public scrutiny of her past actions.”
The committee said it was able to establish that the illegal drug trade inside Bilibid started in 2002 “on a limited scale” when Chinese drug lord Peter Co was incarcerated at the Bilibid.
But during De Lima’s watch, “the activities of drug syndicates in the NBP intensified, with the participation of BuCor officials and prison guards” since De Lima appointed to the BuCor National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Deputy Director General Rafael Ragos as officer-in-charge in 2012, and Director Franklin Bucayu in 2013.
The committee noted the testimonies of witnesses that Bucayu and Ragos received payola from the drug trade.
The committee said in Jan 2013, Ragos instructed gang leaders in Bilibid to raise a weekly “tara” of P100,000, as testified by a National Bureau of Intelligence agent Jovencio Ablen Jr., and inmates Froilan Trestiza, Jojo Baligad and Co.
“Thereafter, he (Ragos) was able to establish a system of collecting payola from the inmates. As a consequence, various illegal activities, including gambling and illegal drug trading, escalated in order to meet the ‘tara’ requirement imposed by Dir. Ragos,” the committee said.
Meanwhile, Bucayu upon his assumption as BuCor director also received monthly payola from the inmates, as testified by Herbert Colanggo, Noel Martinez, Jaime Patcho, Baligad, and Nonilo Arile.
It was during Bucayu’s time when the drug trade evolved into a syndicate, with Chinese drug lords transacting with Filipino drug lords all over the country.
“Upon his assumption, Director Bucayu received monthly payola from the inmates. Consequently, the criminal syndicates evolved into drug syndicates with Chinese drug lords transacting with Filipino drug traders in the entire country,” the committee said.
The evolution of the drug trade into a syndicate “led to an increase in the circulation of cash among inmates, which in turn paved the way for the proliferation of contraband, including guns, alcohol, airconditioning units, golf carts and prostitutes,” the committee said.
The committee also noted the following failure of Bucayu as BuCor director: Failure to operationalize the implementing rules and regulations of the BuCor Modernization Act; failure to execute the memorandum of agreement between BuCor and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in conducting operations at the Bilibid; failure to coordinate the conduct of “Oplan Galugad” with the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and PDEA; as well as his “failure to address the nefarious activities inside the NBP, which were already known to him when he assumed office.”
In sum, the committee said Ragos “systematized the payola system,” while Bucayu “simply continued the state-of-affairs in the NBP started by Dir. Ragos.”
The committee noted a few inconsistencies, which may have been prompted by witnesses’ desire to cover up their actions despite their grant of immunity.
One inconsistency includes Jaybee Sebastian, De Lima’s alleged favored drug lord, who testified that it was De Lima’s former security aide Joenel Sanchez who collected kickbacks for De Lima, not De Lima’s former driver and alleged lover Ronnie Dayan, as alleged by other witnesses.
The committee noted the testimony of Sebastian that De Lima was his “protector” inside Bilibid.
“The committee notes, however, that all the witnesses point to the involvement of then-Sec. De Lima, who was described by Sebastian as ‘the protector,'” the committee said.
The committee also noted that Sebastian came into the hearing despite not being endorsed for immunity by the DOJ in response to a challenge made by De Lima.
In aid of legislation
The committee proposed, among others, the reimposition of death penalty, as well as the amendment of the Anti-Wiretapping Act to allow the present BuCor management to wiretap drug lords inside Bilibid.
The committee established that the drug trade operated through cellphones, and that prison guards switched off the signal jammer in exchange for bribes.
The committee also proposed increasing the budget for the BuCor to purchase state-of-the-art closed circuit TV cameras and other equipment, as well as ensure the proper implementation of the BuCor Modernization Act.
The committed likewise recommended a legislative oversight of penal facilities through the creation of a Congressional Oversight Committee on Correctional System.
On the involvement of Bucayu, Ragos
Meanwhile, the committee urged the DOJ to further look into the involvement of Ragos and Bucayu, the latter’s involvement in the illicit trade the committee was not able to look much into.
The committee urged the DOJ to look into Ragos’ testimony to further indict other higher-ranking officials.
The committee also recommended to the DOJ to look into the involvement of Dayan, whose refusal to attend the hearing and snub the subpoena could mean an indication of guilt.
The committee quoted De Lima herself in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report in 2013, when De Lima was quoted as saying about pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim Napoles: “Flight is deemed an admission of guilt.”
“Indeed, ‘the wicked flee even when no man pursues,'” the committee said. CDG