Immunity granted to 4 more witnesses in Bilibid drugs probe

Mara Cepeda
Immunity granted to 4 more witnesses in Bilibid drugs probe

LeAnne Jazul

There are now 10 witnesses – mostly convicts – at the House inquiry who enjoy immunity from suit for their testimonies against Senator Leila de Lima and on illegal drug operations at the New Bilibid Prison


MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez granted immunity to 4 more witnesses testifying at the House investigation into the illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when Senator Leila De Lima served as justice secretary.

Oriental Mindoro Second District Representative Reynaldo Umali, House committee on justice chairperson, made the announcement during the second day of the probe on Wednesday, September 21.

The following NBP inmates now have immunity from suit concerning their testimonies on the alleged drug proliferation inside the national penitentiary under De Lima’s watch:

  • Jojo Baligad
  • Froilan Trestiza
  • Hans Anton Tan
  • Jesusa Francisco

Based on their executed affidavits, inmates Baligad, Trestiza, and Tan as well as former Department of Justice employee Francisco alleged that De Lima had ordered several gang leaders inside the NBP to collect drug money to help fund her 2016 senatorial bid.

Alvarez had earlier granted immunity to the first batch of 6 witnesses, including two so-called “Bilibid 19” high-profile inmates Herbert Colanggo and Noel Martinez.

“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,” read the Speaker’s letter addressed to each of the witnesses.

The NBP, which is under the supervision of the Department of Justice (DOJ), has long been controversial for drug use, violence, and corruption.

Even if De Lima had conducted 30 inspections at the NBP when she led the DOJ, President Rodrigo Duterte accused her of having links to the drug trade inside the prison.

De Lima has repeatedly denied this claim. She ignored the House probe and called it a “sham” inquiry with witnesses who had been “pressured and tortured” to give testimonies that fit the President’s claim that she had received drug money from Bilibid drug operations.

Duterte maintained that the House investigation has vindicated his earlier accusations that De Lima is involved in illegal drugs.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the DOJ is currently eyeing filing charges against De Lima for possible violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and the Revised Penal Code. – Rappler.com

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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 mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.