MANILA (2nd UPDATE) – Operatives from various law enforcement agencies swooped down on the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) Monday morning and discovered illegal drugs and some items from high-profile inmates, including a hot tub and luxury watches.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, accompanied by elements of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and Philippine National Police (PNP), held a surprise inspection at the national penitentiary's maximum security compound amid reports that convicted drug lords are still able to continue with their operations inside jail.
Government authorities seized suspected shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) from convicted drug lord Peter Co in his room at the maximum security compound.
Authorities also discovered six guns, a storage area, secret pathway, entertainment appliances, P1.4 million cash, and even a sauna facility inside Co's room.
They also seized papers containing a list of names with corresponding cash amounts from Co, suggesting that the convicted drug lord is still able to hold illegal operations behind bars.
In the room of robbery group leader Herbert Colangco, authorities found cash and music equipment.
Colangco's three storage vaults, meanwhile, contained eight luxury watches, composed of five Rolex, one Patek Philippe, one Cartier, and one Panerai. Also in the vaults were cash of various currencies and luxury wallets from high-end brands such as Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermes.
Colangco told dzMM's Alex Calda that the cash seized from him were supposed to be used for a feeding program.
NBI and PNP Special Action Force operatives said among the numerous entertainment items seized were a 48-inch flat screen television and a PlayStation 4 unit. Some of the rooms were also equipped with air-condition units.
A hot tub, sex doll, cash and shabu, meanwhile, were seized from the room of Jojo Baligad, a dismissed US Army serviceman who was jailed for drug trafficking.
De Lima said at least 19 convicted and influential drug lords will be transferred to another detention cell where they would be isolated from the rest of the inmates. Their visiting privileges have also been suspended.
In a random drug testing conducted on 12 inmates, two turned out positive for drug use.
De Lima: I'm disgusted
De Lima said she is surprised that the items were smuggled inside the NBP even though she was assured by NBP officials that inspections of cells were being conducted from time to time.
''Such a situation is really unacceptable and untenable for me. I'm completely disgusted,'' she said.
De Lima said the NBI will be working on filing charges against the inmates found in possession of the prohibited items. She said administrative and criminal charges will also be filed against jail officials found to be negligent of their duties and have acted in connivance with the high-profile inmates.
The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which supervises the national penitentiary, has undergone several leadership changes under de Lima's term. The changes in leadership were brought about by the discoveries of certain irregularities inside the prison, including the proliferation of prohibited items and the unauthorized transfer of inmates.
De Lima said there is no decision yet whether BuCor director Franklin Bucayu will be sacked in the wake of the latest discovery.
''I'm reserving my statements with respect to that because I want first to see the entirety of everything... I need to see the magnitude, the gravity, the extent really of this irregularity before I can take action,'' she said.
''And of course I will have to hear him out also, because he's part of the planning stage of the operation. We were working on this for 2 to 3 months already."
De Lima, meanwhile, said the inmates' isolation would help authorities in validating whether major drug operations were still being controlled behind bars.
''We are isolating them. We will be putting them in a more secured facility. Let's see na kung talagang marami silang nagiging transaction, then it would have an effect on the overall drug situation in the country,'' she said.
The surprise inspection came after de Lima signed the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 10575 or the BuCor Modernization Law.
In an earlier inspection, the BuCor confiscated contraband items in the high-profile cells inside NBP.
Dozens of signal boosters and jammers as well as Wi-Fi antennas were some of the contraband items seized by the BuCor in the search operations.
In a series of investigative reports aired by ABS-CBN News in mid-November, sources said the hi-tech devices were being used by influential inmates to boost cellphone signals and conduct illegal activities in and out of Bilibid.
Some of the devices were confiscated from high-profile inmates earlier named by sources as inmates who run drug, gambling, and other illicit operations inside the maximum security compound.
Bucayu earlier admitted to ABS-CBN that the agency is having a hard time addressing the problem because of "personnel issues."
The bureau said it has clamped down on this, but the inmates are finding new and creative ways to smuggle contraband items.
The BuCor is asking for additional funds to buy X-ray machines, saying manual inspections are tedious and sometimes unreliable.
The agency is also reshuffling personnel and implementing mandatory drug tests for employees.
But the spokesperson for a group of prison guards said this is simply not enough, and Bucayu must resign because of alleged incompetence.
ABS-CBN investigative reports also bared that aside from drugs and signal boosters, inmates are also able to sneak in alcohol, guns, golf carts, and even fighting cocks inside the prison. – reports from Henry Omaga-Diaz and Raffy Santos, ABS-CBN News; Alex Calda, dzMM