DOJ chief: 10 high-profile convicts moved to marine barracks over security threat

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 06 2019 03:27 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2019 03:58 PM

De Lima says transfer "highly suspicious"

MANILA (UPDATE) - Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said the 10 Bilibid inmates moved to a detention facility of the Philippine Marines in Taguig City were transferred over threats to their security.

Speaking to reporters in an interview, Guevarra also said there would be “nothing irregular” with the transfer if it was carried out with court approval. He could not say if the Bureau of Corrections got court approval for the move.

“As long as court approval is secured, I guess that should be okay because the intention is not to provide any special treatment but to secure precisely these people who are to my understanding or recollection will be or are witnesses in an existing case so it’s not for the purpose of giving them special treatment. But because their personal security is under threat,” he told reporters in an ambush interview.

He said he was told of the transfer proposal but did not know what happened after.

“I am not sure about that because I was just informed regarding the proposal. What happened afterwards if the appropriate documentation was done or court approval was secured, I am not privy after that,” he explained.

Asked what exactly he was told about the transfer, Guevarra said: “That was a long time ago. And I was informed there were certain concerns about these people, about these PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) inside the penitentiary so there was a proposal to transfer them to a more secure location in a marine facility inside AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) compound.”

In a document dated June 12, 2019 obtained by ABS-CBN News recently from the office of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Faeldon signed an order transferring confinement of the following “high risk and high profile” prisoners from Building 14 of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) to the Philippine Marine Barracks Rudiardo Brown in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City:

• Hans Anton Tan
• Peter Co alias Wu Tuan Yuan
• Jojo Baligad
• Vicente Sy
• Froilan Trestiza
• Nonilo Arile
• Chua Che Ket
• Rico Caja
• Joel Capones
• Allan Senogat
Marine Capt. Felix Serapio, spokesperson of the Philippine Marines, on Friday morning confirmed to ABS-CBN News that the 10 convicts had been transferred on the night of June 12 to the facility where erring Marines used to be detained.

Report of the transfer came amid controversy over the early release of some 2,000 heinous crime convicts under the good conduct time allowance law. Alleged corruption in the system is under legislative investigation.

Of the 10 convicts, 7 had testified against detained Sen. Leila de Lima on her alleged involvement in the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison during her time as justice chief. De Lima, a staunch administration critic, has denied the allegations, saying the charges were political persecution.

In September last year, De Lima moved to have them disqualified as witnesses on account of their conviction for crimes involving moral turpitude. They are:

• Arile, convicted for murder and kidnapping
• Baligad, convicted for murder
• Sy, convicted for illegal sale and delivery of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu)
• Tan, convicted for robbery and direct assault with murder
• Trestiza, convicted for kidnapping
• Co, convicted for illegal sale and delivery of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu)
• Capones, convicted for homicide

Based on cases decided by the Supreme Court, moral turpitude refers to “an act of baseness, vileness or depravity” that “gravely violates moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of the community…”

A Muntinlupa court, however, denied the motion and De Lima appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Guevarra clarified that those transferred to the Marines barracks were not just witnesses against De Lima.

“There are other persons whose personal security is at risk no. Kaya sila nilipat pansamantala. Hindi naman ito permanent ha. Pansamantala lang ito sa marine barracks. Take note, mas secure 'yung lugar na 'yun kaya nga dun nilalagay. Hindi naman ito nilalagay sa first class na accommodation. 'Yun ang context nun,” he said.

(There are other persons whose personal security is at risk. That’s why they were transferred temporarily. This is not permanent. This is only a temporary transfer to the Marine barracks. Take note, it’s a more secure place that’s why they were placed there. They were not placed in a first class accommodation. That’s the context.)

“But what happened after the proposal was broached to me hindi ko na talaga exactly alam (I really don't know exactly) what transpired after that,” he added.

In a statement, De Lima said the transfer was "highly suspicious."

"For “very special security reasons” raw because they are “witnesses to a certain case,” meaning, the trumped-up drug cases against me. Are they implying that there’s a security threat coming from me? Baloney! Hilarious!" she said in a dispatch from her cell.

"I strongly suspect that the real reason is for my oppressors to further “operate” on these convicts-witnesses, i.e., to further coach and coerce or pressure them to stick to their perjured testimonies," she alleged.

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan also hit the transfer, saying Guevarra's explanation that the move was over security reasons was "a virtual admission of the inability of our prison system to safeguard inmates."

"It should be stressed that the 10 convicts are already in the maximum security compound, which is supposedly heavily guarded and employs the strictest security measures," said Pangilinan.

"More than a case of special treatment, one can't help wonder if this is part of the reward the convicts are receiving for weaving stories and testifying against Senator Leila de Lima," he said.

He wondered "what is still in store" for the convicts, saying the marine barracks was a "comfortable sanctuary" for them.

"We might wake up one day to reports that they have been released, while Sen. De Lima remains incarcerated for a crime she never committed," the Liberal Party president said.