MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II promised an “explosive” congressional inquiry into the drug trade at the state penitentiary during the previous administration, as 14 witnesses, including high-profile convicts, are set to testify against Senator Leila de Lima.
Aguirre said in an interview with radio dzMM that Herbert Colanggo will be among the witnesses who will testify before the House committee on justice on Tuesday morning, September 20.
Colangco is serving time for kidnapping but allegedly continues to run illegal drug operations from the maximum security prison.
Aguirre added in Filipino: “Two will testify that they delivered drug money to Senator De Lima at her house in Parañaque. Each delivery is worth P5 million ($104,666).”
He said the House probe would show why Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman in the so-called Davao Death Squad, suddenly appeared at the Senate probe into extrajudicial killings led by De Lima on Thursday. (READ: De Lima witness: Duterte ‘ordered’ killings in Davao.
Malacañang had refuted Matobato’s allegations against the President. (READ: TIMELINE: Witness lists killings allegedly ‘ordered’ by Duterte)
‘Evil and desperate’
De Lima appeared unfazed by Aguirre’s announcement.
“That simply means nakakahuha na sila ng mga [they finally got some] false/perjured witnesses. I’m not surprised anymore since, as I said before, I was warned already about their evil design and insidious moves, such as fabrication of evidence,” she said in a text message to reporters who asked for her comment on her successor’s statements.
“Pawang mga kasinungalingan yan! [Those are all lies!] That’s how evil and desperate they are,” she added.
In another interview on dzMM, De Lima said she was not surprised by the participation of inmates at the House probe into the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was still justice secretary.
She said that even during the campaign season, when she ran for the Senate, she already heard that “there were people moving in Bilibid, looking for people who will testify against me.”
“‘Yang ‘Bilibid 19,’ napakadali po silang silang tumestigo laban sa akin dahil mga galit yan sa akin ‘yang mga ‘yan (The ‘Bilibid 19,’ it’s so easy for them to testify against me because they are angry at me),” De Lima said.
The “Bilibid 19” refers to high-profile inmates at the maximum state penitentiary who were the subject of surprise inspections conducted led by De Lima when she headed the justice department. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Drug lords, murderers, and high living in Bilibid)
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier released a matrix which alleged that De Lima might not have directly traded illegal drugs in the NBP, but she benefited from it by either turning a blind eye or facilitating the transactions.
US$1 = P47.77