Aguirre wants SAF out of Bilibid as drug trade 'active again'

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Friday, June 2, that he is considering taking out the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers manning the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) and replacing them with soldiers, considering heightened activity inside.

"Lately, I heard, again, that drug syndicates are very active again, I am going to attend to it perhaps by asking, to avoid familiarity, because I've already changed the initial batch of SAF troopers baka gumamit na rin ako ng marines (maybe I will use marines) by the Armed Forces of the Philippines," Aguirre said in an interview with Rappler on Thursday, June 1.  

When Rappler clarified whether the soldiers are going to be additions to the SAF or replace the elite cops, Aguirre said "replace" in a text message sent on Friday, June 2.

A new batch of SAF troopers were deployed to Bilibid in December 2016 to replace the initial 300-man deployment of the elite cops to "avoid familiarity." Last April, there were conflicting reports of whether Aguirre wanted to take out SAF for being "tainted" and replace them with soldiers. Aguirre said then that the SAF were doing "excellent work." (READ: Illegal drugs found in Bilibid even after SAF takeover)

SAF Spokesperson Inspector Jonalyn Manlat has not responded to Rappler's request for comment as of posting time.

De Lima witnesses

Asked if the "newly-active" drug inmates are the same inmates who the Department of Justice (DOJ) has turned into witnesses against Senator Leila de Lima, Aguirre said he has "yet to verify."

When the DOJ filed charges of drug trade against De Lima, Ronnie Dayan and former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, it excluded 5 inmates initially on the complaint so they could turn state witnesses.

They are: Herbert Colanggo, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co. These inmates supposedly traded drugs inside the national penitentiary to produce money for De Lima. (READ: The high life: Illegal drugs and the New Bilibid Prison)

"Binabantayan natin sila, hindi lang naman sila, tulad ng sinabi ko mayroong creeping resurgence, kaya I'm going to act on this, the resurgence of drug trading," Aguirre said. (We are closely watching them, not just them, just like I said, there's a creeping resurgence, that's why I'm going to act on this, the resurgence of drug trading.)

Aguirre said he wants to put the public's mind at ease that turning inmates to witnesses does not mean he's letting them off the hook.

"They will still be detained for which they are convicted. Hindi po makaka-apekto, hindi po pakakawalan itong mga drug lords na ito sa kanilang conviction," Aguirre said.

(They will still be detained for which they are convicted. It's not going to affect, we're not going to release these drug lords from their conviction.) – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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