House probe into Bilibid drugs: What to expect

MANILA, Philippines – The House committee on justice is set to dig into why drugs proliferated inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) while Senator Leila de Lima was justice secretary.

The 9:30 am hearing on Tuesday, September 20, will be presided over by committee chairperson Reynaldo Umali, who has vowed to conduct a “fair, objective” probe.  

The national penitentiary, which is under the supervision of the Department of Justice (DOJ), has been exposed for widespread drug use, violence, and corruption among the inmates and prison guards. 

During her time as justice secretary, De Lima led over 30 inspections at the NBP called “Oplan Galugad.”

But President Rodrigo Duterte alleged that she had links to the drug trade inside the NBP. In a publicized drug matrix, the President claimed De Lima, through her driver-boyfriend, collected money from drug lords, funding her senatorial campaign in 2016. 

The House investigation, “in aid of legislation,” has been sought since De Lima initiated a Senate investigation into the spate of summary executions in relation to the administration's war on drugs. 

Days after she presented a key witness in the Senate, De Lima was ousted Monday as chairperson of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.  

De Lima said she will not appear before congressmen, calling the House probe a “sham inquiry” designed to discredit her upon orders from Duterte.

“With or without an invitation, I will NOT attend that hearing. I will not even send any representative, lawyer or even an observer,” said the senator previously said in a text message to Rappler.

The House leadership agreed that it cannot compel De Lima to attend out of inter-parliamentary courtesy between both Houses of Congress.

The next hearing is scheduled on September 21 at 9:30 am.

Resource persons, witnesses

Apart from De Lima, the following have been invited as resource persons: 

Aguirre promised an “explosive” congressional inquiry, saying the DOJ has at least 30 witnesses to present before congressmen. 

Only 5, however, are expected to appear on Tuesday, which includes high-profile inmate and robbery gang leader Herbert Colangco.

Colangco supposedly executed an affidavit, claiming that De Lima got millions from drug lords in exchange for allowing convicts to continue their illegal drug operations inside the prison.  

Aguirre said former BuCor acting director Rafael Ragos, NBI agent Junior Ablen, and retired police official Rodolfo Magleo will also testify against De Lima.  

According to the DOJ secretary, DOJ’s affidavit allege that the senator had, on several occasions, received P5 million in drug money at her residence. 

"Yes, there is basis [to file charges] based on the affidavits. A complaint may be filed and this will undergo preliminary investigation. The nature is on violation of drugs law, [and possibly] anti-graft," Aguirre said on September 19. (READ: DOJ eyes criminal raps vs De Lima)

Despite these, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez asserted that the probe is not a personal attack against De Lima. 

“No, this is not personal. Why would we resort to personal attacks? If you look closely at the resolution I filed, she was not mentioned. The resolution clearly states that what we are going to investigate is the widespread use of drugs at the New Bilibid Prison under her supervision,” said Alvarez. 

It was House Resolution Number 105 filed by Alvarez himself along with House leaders which prompted the congressional probe. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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