MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – For months, over several “discreet meetings,” top officials of the Philippines’ law enforcement agencies planned and discussed a top-secret operation to raid the New Bilibid Prison, based on intelligence reports that there were illegal drug operations inside the maximum-security prison.
But Police Director General Benjamin Magalong was surprised and admittedly, dismayed, when on December 15, 2014, he found out that the top-secret Bilibid raid was conducted without the presence of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
Magalong made the disclosure on Wednesday, September 21, at the House inquiry into the alleged spread of illegal drugs inside the Bilibid when Senator Leila de Lima was justice secretary.
“We waited for them to finally conduct the raid. But we were already out of the picture,” Magalong, current PNP Deputy Chief for Operations, said.
Magalong was referring to a December 2014 raid on the New Bilibid Prison’s Maximum Security Compound that made headlines for the contraband items seized from convicts. The operation was led by De Lima and involved the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which was under her watch as justice secretary.
During the raid, De Lima and NBI agents found that the so-called “Bilibid 19,” among the NBP’s high-profile inmates, were living in the lap of luxiury. “Kubols” or individual dwellings were airconditioned, had bathtubs and even featured a full entertainment system.
Magalong said they made several other proposals for the planned joint operation: first, police wanted the CIDG and the PNP’s National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) to raid one part of the prison controlled by convict Herbert Colanggo while the NBI and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to raid another area controlled by Jaybee Sebastian.
The former CIDG chief also suggested that the high-profile convicts be brought and isolated in either Palawan or Zamboanga.
In the end, none of those suggestions were implemented.
The De Lima-led raid only covered the Maximum Security Compound and the inmates were held at the NBI instead.
Magalong’s testimony comes as the House heard testimonies from convicts claiming that as justice secretary, De Lima coddled drug lords and received money in exchange, supposedly to raise funds for her senatorial run.
De Lima has slammed the hearings as a “sham,” supposedly retaliation because she started a probe into the rise of deaths in connection with the administration’s “war on drugs.”
‘Stop the raid’
Magalong, who was appointed CIDG chief late 2013, said he approached De Lima to talk about the drug trade inside Bilibid after they traced drug “recycling” operations to the prison. The CIDG then was investigating police personnel known to “recycle” or resell drugs seized during operations.
When they first met on the matter, said Magalong, De Lima had in hear room a white board with a diagram of personalities inside Bilibid. Before their meeting ended, Magalong said told De Lima, “Ma’am, we need to raid Bilibid because this is already happening.”
De Lima agreed, and called for a high-level meeting with then PDEA chief Arturo Cacdac, then NBI chief Virgilio Mendez, and a representative from the military’s intelligence branch.
Magalong said he was surprised to see Rafael Ragos, an NBI agent assigned at the Bureau of Corrections, at the meeting. When he pointed out Ragos’ presence to De Lima, she too was surprised and Ragos was asked to leave the meeting.
Ragos would later testify against now-senator De Lima, accusing De Lima of accepting drug money from convicts inside Bilibid. Convicts who testified at the House probe alleged that Ragos was the bagman of De Lima. (READ: Bilibid probe witnesses: We delivered P5-M ‘quota’ to De Lima)
Magalong recalled that in one of the 4 “discreet” meetings with other agencies, Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu sat in. Officials wanted Bucayu out of the planning sessions but he eventually had to be brought in for coordination.
During the meeting, Bucayu discouraged law enforcers from pushing through with the operation. “Don’t push through with the raid. You’ll have a hard time,” Magalon recalled Bucayu as saying.
Bucayu would later arrange a private meeting with Magalong at the CIDG office in September 2014. With Bucayu was Reginald Villasanta from the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC). During the meeting, Bucayu asked Magalong not to push through with the operation. “Benjie, mamamatay ako (I’m going to die),” Bucayu pleaded.
Magalong said Bucayu did not relent and instead told him to ask De Lima, who was Bucayu’s boss. De Lima and Bucayu spoke and Magalong went on with preparing the case operation. The CIDG’s role in the operation was dubbed “Case Operation Plan Cronus.”
In the end, neither the CIDG nor the PDEA were involved in the raid. Only PDEA K9s were requested, but supposedly only hours before the raid.
Asked if De Lima ever explained the CIDG’s exclusion, Magalong could not give a clear answer.
“We presented [the plan] to [De Lima] in one top level meeting. She said she will sign it jointly with [Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II]. After that, in a few occasions we met in a particular event, I’d always ask [De Lima]: ‘How will the operation work? I’m willing to be the ground commander.’ She would tell me, ‘Let’s just wait, Benjie,’” recalled Magalong.
The NBI did tap police – the NCRPO and the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF) – as the “main force” in the raid.
Responding to a lawmaker’s query, Magalong said the series of raids yielded contraband, including cash, weapons, and illegal drugs.
“It was a very successful raid,” he said. “The only frustration I felt was that the why were some personalities inside the NBP not included in the special detention center in the NBI.”
When asked, Magalong also said he felt bad by the exclusion of the CIDG from the operation as it was part of the planning process.
He declined to comment on why he and the CIDG was eased out of the picture, saying he did not want to speculate on the possible reason. – Rappler.com
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