MANILA- A fresh contingent of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) has replaced hundreds of their comrades manning the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, following reports of a "resurgence" of the illegal drug trade at the state penitentiary.
Justice Undersecretary Antonio Kho, Jr., who supervises the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), said Monday that a battalion-size SAF contingent was deployed over the weekend to man the maximum security compound, which houses inmates serving sentences of more than 20 years.
Kho said the move was done in light of reports that the drug trade has shifted from the maximum security to the medium security compound, as raids in the former had intensified.
"We want the SAF to provide additional complement, but they are also involved in many activities. We cannot compel them or ask them to guard the entire NBP,” Kho said.
Around 400 SAF commandos were deployed to the NBP in July last year, to once and for all curb illegal drug activities inside the prison.
But Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II revealed on July 3 that some SAF personnel assigned at the NBP may have been involved in the "resurgence" of the illegal drug trade.
This led retired police official Benjamin De Los Santos to quit his post as BuCor Director-General on July 13, after serving for merely 8 months.
Aguirre has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to to look into the reported drug resurgence and see who should be charged with administrative and criminal cases.
For his part, Kho said he preferred not to use the term “resurgence” in describing the current situation at the NBP.
"I would not use the word 'resurgence' but rather it is a continuing effort on the part of the DOJ (Department of Justice), NBI, as well as officers of the BuCor to reduce and eliminate drug trading in the Philippines. We have not eliminated and the President also recognizes this, that we have not eliminated drug trading in the Philippines,” Kho said.
The alleged illegal drug trade at the NBP earlier led to the indictment of former DOJ and BuCor officials, among them former Justice Secretary and now Sen. Leila De Lima, along with other personalities.
De Lima, a fierce Duterte critic, has many times denied drug allegations, saying they were part of her 'political persecution."
The current administration has bared at least 70 percent of the country's illegal drug operations was controlled by high-profile NBP inmates in recent years.
TRANSFER OF INMATES RECALLED
Aguirre has meanwhile ordered the recall of the December 2016 transfer of several unnamed NBP inmates from the maximum and medium security compounds, and Building 14, a facility that houses high-profile convicts.
In Department Order no. 496, Aguirre on Monday ordered the BuCor “to immediately return to their original detention facility all inmates who were previously transferred from Building 14 to maximum security or medium security, and from the maximum security to medium security since Dec. 01, 2016.”
It was not clear if the order had something to do with the reported revival of the illegal drug trade, but the BuCor was also directed to seek Aguirre's approval for the transfer of inmates convicted of offenses related to illegal drugs.
The bureau was also directed to submit a list and inventory of inmates previously transferred to another detention compound within the NBP, as well as the reason for such transfer.
Justice and BuCor officials will meet within the week to discuss the order.