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DOJ: Transfer to NBI doesn’t violate rights of prison VIPs

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DOJ: Transfer to NBI doesn’t violate rights of prison VIPs
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima asks the budget department to fund a separate building inside the national penitentiary's maximum security compound for convicted drug lords

MANILA, Philippines – The rights of the 19 New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates found to be living luxuriously inside the prison compound were not violated when they were transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) compound in Manila.

This was according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who defended on Wednesday, December 17, the temporary relocation of the 19 inmates most of whom had been convicted of drug-related offenses.

Her comments were prompted by a two-page letter from lawyer Paul Laguatan, legal counsel of Pasig shabu (methamphetamine) dealer Amin Imam Boratong, one of the 19 convicts. (READ: ‘Heads must roll’ over durg dealer’s Bilibid house – DOJ)

Laguatan wrote to De Lima and NBI Director Virgilio Mendez, decrying the lack of documentary basis for his client’s transfer.

He said the NBI denied him access to his client within its premises and required a DOJ clearance, arguing it violated his client’s constitutional right to counsel.

“If our client is being detained as a result of any investigation, then more so the right of counsel is ever glaring,” said Laguatan.

De Lima, however, explained that the 19 Bilibid prisoners are under the jurisdiction of the DOJ, which supervises the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

“Their temporary transfer to NBI for safekeeping is in line with plenary safekeeping mandate of BuCor subject only to their right to humane treatment or constitutional right of prisoners against cruel and degrading punishment,” she said.

Mendez also explained that the NBI detention facility is an extension of the NBP. “In fact, the jail guards manning the NBI detention facility are from the NBP,” he said.

The 19 inmates transferred to the NBI detention facility are: Peter Co, Herbert Romarate Colangco, Jojo Rondal Baligad, Clarence Domingo Dongail, Noel Golloso Martinez, Eugene Chua, Vicente Sy, Jacky King, Michael Ong, Willy Chua, Tom Chua, Sam Li Chua, Willy Sy, Rommel Doro Capones, Joel Doro Capones, German Luna Agojo, Amin Imam Buratong, Tony Co, and George Sy.

Historic raid

De Lima on Monday, December 15, conducted a surprise visit to the NBP maximum security compound and found the 19 inmates “living like kings” in their own air-conditioned “villas” complete with jacuzzis and stripper bars. (READ: Prison sex, drugs, and bribery scandal shocks the Philippines)

Drugs, wads of cash totalling P2 million (P44,662)*, inflatable sex dolls, and entertainment sets were just some of the items seized from the villas in a historic raid that shocked the nation.

The raid confirmed long-running claims about luxuries provided to rich NBP inmates even the average Filipino cannot afford.

BuCor Director Franklin Jesus Bucayu denied having known of the structures built inside the NBP maximum compound and of the extent of corruption having gone this far. He said the NBP is like a “maze” and has “many partitions.” 

The NBP is the country’s main penitentiary, congested 3 times more than its ideal capacity. Through the years it has been rife with reports of special treatment of high-profile inmates and drug-related activities operated by convicted dealers in cahoots with prison guards.

The DOJ is eyeing the transfer of the NBP to a new facility to be built in Nueva Ecija as part of the reforms to stem the looming “prison-based criminality.” (READ: Reforms, site transfer to stem prison crimes)

Request for budget 

To segregate prisoners convicted for drug-related offenses from the rest of the inmates, De Lima said she had reached out to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for the release of funds to renovate Building 14 inside the NBP’s maximum compound.

She said the 19 inmates temporarily staying at the NBI would be transferred to the said facility once it is renovated. 

Continuing anti-drug operations inside NBP will be harder to conduct with these drug dealers still inside the compound, De Lima added.

Without disclosing specific details, she added that a second raid will be conducted to combat the drug trade inside NBP.

The crackdown will be conducted with the help of information from the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, she said.

She clarified, however, that the most notorious drug dealers have been neutralized during Monday’s raid. – 

*US$1= P44.78

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