MANILA - Five of the 12 witnesses presented before the House Committee on Justice inquiry have pending applications for pardon or executive clemency, the House minority bloc said Tuesday.
"I got this response from the Board of Pardons and Parole. I still maintain these witnesses are polluted witnesses as they were forced to testify because they're more concerned about their safety and comfort," Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said.
Alejano raised the possibility of freedom for Engelberto Durano, Nonilo Arile, Jaime Patcho, Jojo Baligad, and Vicente Sy following their unfavorable testimony against Senator Leila de Lima, who has been tagged by the administration as the protector of illegal drugs at the Bilibid.
The House probe centers on the proliferation of illegal drugs in the state penitentiary under De Lima's watch.
"Tinanong ko ito dahil pwedeng gamitin ito na regard sila nagtetestify sila binigyan ng immunity witness protection. Five out of the 12 anytime baka biglang lumaya ito," he said. [I'm asking this because they might be testifying just to get immunity. Five out of 12 might be suddenly released from jail.]
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said, "Itong mga applications na ito for clemency or pardon will be enhanced by their cooperation in giving their testimonies. Ito posibleng ticket nila to freedom or clemency." [These applications for clemency or pardon will be enhanced by their cooperation in giving their testimonies. This is their possible ticket to freedom or clemency.]
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said these applications will be reviewed by the Office of the President.
Durano's carpeta or case file was requested on October 27, 2015, Arile's was requested on 25 January 2011, Patcho's was returned to the Bureau of Corrections on 15 April 2016, Baligad's case is for verification of pending criminal cases per his record with the NBI while Sy's is for verification of other pending cases.
There are no records of pending applications for witnesses Rodolfo Magleo, Herbert Colangco, Noel Martinez, Froiln Trestiza, Hans Anton Tan, Jaybee Sebastian, and Peter Co.
Durano had testified: "Inabot ko na kay Secretary De Lima ang kahon na may lamang P1.5 million at sinabi 'Ma'am, ito no po.' Kinuha ito ni Secretary at inabot sa lalakeng sumalubong sa akin." [I handed a box containing P1.5 million to Secretary De Lima and told her, 'Here you go, ma'am.' She took the box and handed it over to the guy who greeted me.]
Arile testified he was a police asset who discovered that De Lima is the protector of drugs operations. He also testified that some P300 million went missing from the Bilibid after an anti-illegal drugs operation was launched in December 2014.
Patcho, Baligad, and Sy were allegedly recruited to raise campaign funds for De Lima by selling drugs.
House Justice Committee Chair Rey Umali said, "That is the call of the secretary of justice. Remember that this inmate witnesses were recommended for immunity by the SOJ and likewise on matters of parole that is the province of the SOJ who recommends to the president any of these initiatives that really should have to come from the SOJ."
"How the president will decide on the matter and this is a prerogative and a power of the president. It's the SOJ's call and the president's call we don't want to preempt," Umali said.
Umali said the committee is unaware of any quid pro quos for the testimony of the witnesses.
"We are unaware of that and if ever dapat siguro lumabas na yan kung meron. Wala naman kami nahihimigan na ganyan. that is a usual concern a minority group would always raise. For me that's fear of the unknown," he said. [We are unaware of that and it should have come out if there is such. We do not hear anything about it. That is a usual concern a minority group would always raise. For me, that's fear of the unknown.]
The revelation came as the House Committee on Justice voted to approve its committee report on the investigation. The report can't be made public yet until it has been reported out in the House plenary.
The report doesn't cover the recent raid at the Bilibid, the testimony of Ronnie Dayan who remains at large, and the exclusion of the PNP from the anti-illegal drugs operation of December 2014 at the Bilibid. Those matters were referred to the subcommittee on corrections.
Umali said the committee has findings on the involvement and accountabilities of authorities.
Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin however said after the vote, the minority will submit a dissenting opinion because the report makes no recommendation on the prosecution of those involved.
"The position of the minority is it is necessary to identify all those officials and personalities involved in the proliferation of drugs in NBP and a recommendation must be arrived on the prosecution of accountable officers and personalities in the prolifieration of drugs in the NBP. We find it conspicuously absent."
In an ambush interview, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez pointed out that "there is no recommendation of what to do."
"We feel it's not fair considering the seriousness of the case the committee believes that the proliferation of this drug problem was because of the last six years when the SOJ could have done sizable amount of effort to curb its growth," Suarez said.
Suarez joined the call of Kabayan Party List Rep. Harry Roque for the ouster of De Lima as senator saying, "It's time for the senators to do something about their colleague. It is so glaring."
Lagman however rebutted Suarez and his group saying, "Thats the problem with the majority's minority leader. In the first place the Committee on Justice doesn't have the jurisdiction to investigate Senator De Lima's alleged involvement in the narcotics trade in the NBP."
"The jurisdiction belongs to DOJ, the prosecutorial agencies of government under the DOJ. An erroneous assumption of jurisdiction cannot justify an erratic assumption today. What recommendation will it make? There are already charges filed against De Lima before the DOJ because the DOJ is the proper forum for such prosecutorial investigation," Lagman said.
"It's so unfortunate that the Committee on Justice allowed itself to be used as a vehicle for a shame and vilification campaign," he said.