Bilibid drugs probe: Immunity granted to 6 witnesses

Mara Cepeda

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Bilibid drugs probe: Immunity granted to 6 witnesses

LeAnne Jazul

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II says the 6 witnesses, including high-profile inmates, should be granted immunity before they testify at the House probe

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Tuesday, September 20, granted immunity to 6 witnesses testifying at the first House probe into the drug proliferation inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when Senator Leila de Lima was still justice secretary.


Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday asked the House committee on justice to give the following immunity from suit involving their testimonies about to be delivered before the panel, two belonging to the so-called “Bilibid 19” or high-profile inmates:


  • Herbert Colanggo, Bilibid 19 member
  • Noel Martinez, Bilibid 19 member
  • Jaime Patcho, inmate
  • Rafael Ragos, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director III and former officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Corrections 
  • Jovencio Ablen Jr, NBI intelligence agent I
  • Rodolfo Magleo, former police chief inspector


Alvarez’s letter to addressed to the witnesses reads: “I hereby grant approval for your admission with your expressed consent to the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Act under Section 12 of the aforementioned act. You shall be entitled to immunity from any and all criminal prosecution from the offense or offenses in which your testimony will be given or used  and all the rights and benefits provided under Section  8 of the same law.”



The NBP, which is under the supervision of Department of Justice (DOJ), is notorious for widespread drug use, violence, and corruption among the inmates and prison guards.


De Lima led at least 30 inspections of the national penitentiary during her stint as justice secretary, but President Rodrigo Duterte had accused her of having links to the drug trade inside the NBP.

In his affidavit, Colangco claims that De Lima got millions from drug lords in exchange for allowing convicts to continue their illegal drug operations inside the prison.

The other witnesses’ affidavits also allege that De Lima supposedly received P5 million in drug money at her residence on several occasions. Part of the money was supposedly used to fund her 2016 senatorial bid.

De Lima refused to appear before the House panel, calling the probe a “sham inquiry” designed to discredit her upon orders of Duterte. – 








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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.