House to investigate drugs in Bilibid under De Lima
President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives are pushing for an inquiry into how convicted drug lords virtually took over New Bilibid Prison and used it as base for drug production and distribution during the five years that Sen. Leila de Lima had been secretary of justice.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas last month led a group of lawmakers in filing House Resolution No. 105, calling for an investigation of the operation of drug syndicates in Bilibid and the culpability of prison and justice officials, including De Lima. The Inquirer learned about the filing of the resolution yesterday, two days after President Duterte accused De Lima of accepting payoffs from convicted drug lords held at Bilibid and having an affair with her driver.
Mr. Duterte’s attack is believed to have been provoked by De Lima’s calling an inquiry into the spate of drug killings that came with the President’s war on drugs. De Lima denied the accusations, calling the President’s attack “foul” and “character assassination.” She said the attack would not stop the inquiry by her committee on justice and human rights, which opens on Monday.
The auxiliary bishop of Manila, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, yesterday urged the Senate not to be cowed and instead proceed with the investigation. “I hope the probe will really be true and the senators will not be cowed. I admire the determination of De Lima,” Pabillo said. Pabillo urged all those concerned to cooperate in the investigation in order to put an end to extrajudicial killings in the government’s campaign against the narcotics trade.
De Lima defended
Several senators rallied around De Lima yesterday, defending her against Mr. Duterte, who had warned Congress not to investigate his war on drugs. Minority Leader Ralph Recto said he did not believe De Lima was involved in illegal drugs.
“Hard for me to believe Senator De Lima is coddling/protecting drug lords and receiving money from them,” Recto said in a text message. He said he expected the Senate to call an all-member caucus to determine how to deal with the President’s attack on one of its members. Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said Mr. Duterte’s attack on De Lima showed that the President did not brook opposition.
But with De Lima standing up to him, Mr. Duterte now knows not everyone will bow to him, Trillanes said. “I think President Duterte, because of his long experience as a totalitarian mayor of Davao City, is instinctively intolerant of dissenting voices. But he is slowly finding out that our senators are no pushovers, unlike the city councilors he is used to dealing with,” he said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva called for a stop to “personal attacks” and said he hoped the President would be more patient with other officials who were also working for the good of the country.
Sen. Bam Aquino urged De Lima to remain strong and pursue her search for truth and justice through her committee’s inquiry into the extrajudicial killings.
‘Prove her innocence’
But Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, an ally of Mr. Duterte, said De Lima should “prove her innocence instead of crying foul.” “She knows the system very well,” Gatchalian said in a text message. He said he trusted Mr. Duterte.
In the House resolution, Alvarez and Fariñas cited the cases of Peter Co and Herbert Colangco, two drug lords publicly named by Mr. Duterte, who continued to have hands-on control of their drug networks despite being held at Bilibid.
They said the probe would ensure transparency and accountability in the government to restore the public’s trust in governmental institutions.
‘Asylum for drug lords’
The lawmakers said the drug lords had held Bilibid captive, as shown in the December 2014 raid where a makeshift drug laboratory, drug paraphernalia, cash, high-powered firearms and luxury items were discovered.
“The government operations exposed the nation’s premier detention facility as a permanent asylum for drug lords, gambling lords and local mafiosi operating freely within the enclosed facility, imposing control on inmates, and operating side by side with institutional workers and security personnel,” the lawmakers said.
Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop, who also signed the resolution, said he would like De Lima to explain reports that she held off several planned police raids on Bilibid due to the intervention of then Bureau of Corrections Chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu. Acop, chair of the committee on public order and safety that would handle the probe, said De Lima should also explain why she allowed 18 drug lords who were caught living it up and operating their drug businesses inside Bilibid to return to their detention centers after the raids.
“We have received intelligence information that at least eight hardcore drug lords continue working their businesses inside [Bilibid] through the past few years [on] De Lima’s watch. We found these drugs lords were the heavy bettors in casinos and cockfights,” Acop said.
Acop denied the investigation was payback for De Lima’s calling a Senate inquiry into the extrajudicial killings, saying the resolution was filed on July 21. Aside from Alvarez, Fariñas and Acop, the resolution was signed by Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, Rizal Rep. John R. Duavit, Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexie Nograles, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador Leachon and Valenzuela Rep. Eric Martinez.