MANILA, Philippines – If convicted kidnapper and supposed drug lord Herbert Colanggo is to be believed, Senator Leila de Lima not only coddled drug lords serving time in the New Bilibid Prison. She also supposedly used a mobile phone number issued by the justice department to communicate with them.
It was among the many allegations of Colanggo against De Lima, one of the key witnesses in a congressional inquiry into the supposed proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when De Lima was justice secretary. (READ: Colanggo: I gave De Lima 'payola')
Under the questioning of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday, September 20, Colanggo claimed that he was able to bring in beer inside the high-security prison even if it's not allowed because he "had the blessing of the Department of Justice (DOJ) through Secretary Leila de Lima."
Colanggo then said he was able to speak to De Lima on the phone around the second week of January 2014. Asked how he knew that he spoke with De Lima, the convict said he had heard De Lima speak in televised news reports.
The Bilibid convict read De Lima's supposed number out loud: "0917 842 1831."
Aguirre quickly corrected Colanggo, asking him if he was sure about the last 4digits of the cellphone number. To this, the convict responded: "19 pala (It's 19 after all). 842 1931."
Aguirre would later confirm – through a certification from the Department of Justice which he now heads – that the number is the same one issued to De Lima when she headed the department.
At least two lawmakers claimed it was the same number they had of De Lima in their own cellular phones.
Colanggo is one of 6 witnesses brought in by Aguirre to prove allegations that De Lima coddled drug lords inside Bilibid prison when she was justice chief. The New Bilibid Prison is run by the Bureau of Corrections, which is under the justice department. (READ: Bilibid drugs probe: Immunity granted to 6 witnesses)
Another witness, a former cop convicted for kidnapping, earlier alleged that while De Lima was justice chief, the Maximum Security Compound – where Colanggo was detained – turned into a "Little Las Vegas." Illegal drugs, gambling, prostitution and concert were apparently allowed inside the supposedly high-security facility in the years De Lima was in power, claimed Rafael Ragos.
Colanggo claimed he started giving P3 million monthly to De Lima in October 2013, through her aide, a certain Joenel Sanchez. But Colanggo said it was only in January 2014 when he allegedly confirmed that the money was going to De Lima.
"Sir Joenel and I spoke to each other. I told him, since Ronnie Dayan gave instructions, would it be possible to speak to the secretary. He told me: It seems like you don't trust me. I said no, I just want to make sure. So he dictated the cellphone number," Colanggo said in Filipino, again under the questioning of Aguirre.
Colanggo, using a cellphone from one of his seatmates, demonstrated the supposed conversation between himself and De Lima.
"Joenel told me, 'Go ahead and dial the number.' I dialed the number then saw the name, 'Ma'am.' Then I told Joenel, 'You should talk to her first.' I hear him say: 'Hello, Ma'am. Herbert wants to talk to you.' I said, 'Ma'am.' She answered back, 'How are you?' I was thinking, this person might just be pretending to be the secretary but I always hear her voice on television. It was really her," said Colanggo.
He continued: "I told her, 'Ma'am I just want to confirm since Sir Joenel is here. He has instructions for me.' She told me: 'You guys handle that.' I said, 'I want to confirm that since October we've been giving P3 million.' She said: 'Okay, okay. Herbert, thank you.'"
Colanggo would apparently speak to De Lima in person almost a year later in December, after law enforcers led by De Lima raided the Maximum Security Compound and transferred most of its inmates to the National Bureau of Investigation. But De Lima supposedly spared some convicts, including Jaybee Sebastian who witnesses claimed "strengthened" the drug trade inside Bilibid.
Witnesses, including 4 Bilibid convicts, testified before the House committee on justice, to apparently prove that De Lima coddled drug lords and even received money from them.
De Lima has blasted the House probe as a "sham," allegedly as retaliation for a Senate probe into the rise of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte begin a "war on drugs" in the country. President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier alleged that the neophyte senator facilitated the drug trade and received drug money when she was DOJ chief.
Duterte's PDP-Laban and its allies control both houses of Congress. – Rappler.com