House panel grants immunity to witnesses in Bilibid probe

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 20 2016 12:44 PM

MANILA - House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has approved the recommendation of a panel to grant immunity to six witnesses of the Department of Justice on the alleged drug trade at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP).

Granted immunity were former Bureau of Corrections chief and now National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy director Rafael Ragos, his aide Jovencio Ablen, Rodolfo Magleo, Joel Capones, Jaime Pacho, and Herbert Colangco for their testimonies before the panel regarding the proliferation of the illegal drugs trade in the national penitentiary.

The House committee on justice made the recommendation to Alvarez upon the motion of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas, as requested by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

Aguirre revealed that the lawyers of the witnesses made the request for immunity for their testimony in Congress even if they are already covered by the government's Witness Protection Program.

Aguirre has accused former justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima of condoning the drug trade in Bilibid, an allegation that the neophyte senator has denied.

Giving a glimpse to the witnesses’ testimonies, Aguirre pointed to high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian as one of the inmates who raised money for de Lima’s senatorial bid in exchange for protection and special treatment at the Bilibid.

He said another high-profile inmate, convicted robbery group leader Herbert Colangco, will testify that he was ordered by Sebastian to sell drugs, a portion of the proceeds were supposedly given to de Lima.

Aguirre said Colangco claimed giving a P3 million monthly "payola" to de Lima.

Aguirre said Magleo, a former anti-narcotics cop, will testify that Sebastian had disclosed to him that several drug lords and inmates would be removed from the maximum security compound so he could monopolize the drug operations at the Bilibid.

Aguirre earlier said that some members of the group of high-profile inmates called the “Bilibid 19” had claimed that de Lima ordered their transfer to the NBI headquarters so Sebastian could monopolize the Bilibid drug trade.

He said Magleo will testify that Sebastian paid millions to de Lima and then BuCor chief Franklin Bucayu, and that Sebastian was one of financiers of de Lima’s senatorial campaign.

Another Bilibid 19 inmate, Noel Martinez, will testify that Sebastian had ordered the “centralization” of the drug sale in the Bilibid and required him and other gang leaders to help.

Pacho, meanwhile, will testify that he referred a person to Sebastian who “received drugs and paid for it through bank deposits,” Aguirre said.

‘NOT ABOUT DE LIMA’

The first day of the committee's probe began in a jampacked, standing room only venue. Lawmakers, their staff members, the officials of the justice department and corrections bureau, as well the witnesses and their security escorts, filled the Andaya Hall, one of the bigger conference rooms in the Lower House.

The hearing started with Committee Chairman Rey Umali noting that people seem apathetic to extra-judicial killings attributed to the war against illegal drugs because of the perceived breakdown in the criminal justice system.

Umali also stressed that the hearing was not aimed at de Lima, a member of a sorority allied with his fraternity.

"I would like to disabuse the mind of my sis that this is a sham hearing and [that this] a kangaroo committee," he said.

Corrections Subcommittee Chairman Henry Oaminal said that according to news reports, more than 30 raids have been conducted from 2014-2016. Yet, despite these raids, the current realities show that the illegal drug trade discovered in the National Bilibid Prison not only continues, but actually thrives, he said.

"We come down to the crux of the issue -- why were we unable to stop such flagrant defiance of our laws, inside a government institution and manned by employees of the government, nonetheless?" he asked.