MANILA — Moneyed inmates smuggle drugs and prostitutes to the national penitentiary, enjoying a list of privileges that came to light Thursday as senators sought to fix a Philippine prison system that is “rotten to the core."
Three Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials earlier cited for contempt were released late Thursday after providing information into corrupt practices at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa, said Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee.
Retired police general Benjamin Magalong, in an executive session with senators, also identified law enforcers involved in the illegal drug trade, which was allegedly “managed” from the state penitentiary.
Gordon said he asked Sen. Christopher Go to inform President Rodrigo Duterte of the scale of corruption at the BuCor that was revealed to senators by some prison officials. Go was the president’s longtime assistant, but continues to accompany him in official events.
“Ako nagulat... napakalalim (I was surprised. It's so deeply entrenched),” Gordon told reporters after the committee hearing.
“It’s important na we go on with the main task ahead, which is we have a prison system that is rotten to the core.”
During the hearing, Gordon cited the alleged purchase of Toyota Innova vans by a group of prison guards called the “Innova Gang,” using money from drug convicts.
BuCor legal chief Fredric Santos confirmed the existence of such group, saying it was now being investigated by the Ombudsman.
In turn, the prison guards allowed the inmates to smuggle contraband such as illegal drugs, the senator said.
Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II told senators that “nothing moved” at the NBP “without involving money.”
Thursday’s hearing shed light on how corrupt prison officials made money from hospital privileges, food rations, and subsistence allowance for inmates. They were also known to pocket hefty amounts by allowing high-profile inmates to use mobile phones and appliances.
“Ang Bilibid, lumalabas na palengke ng mga bisyo (It appears Bilibid is a marketplace of vices),” Gordon said, citing illegal drugs and female prostitutes known in prison parlance as “tilapia.”
“Nakakalungkot isipin na maraming opisyal ng ating prison system ang nilamon na yata.”
(It's unfortunate that many officials in our prison system have been devoured [by corruption].)
The Senate initiated investigation into corruption at the BuCor following controversy over the early release of heinous crime convicts on good conduct credits.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered some 2,000 of these inmates to surrender, with his ultimatum ending Thursday, Sept. 19, or face warrantless arrest.