Aguirre bet for BuCor, DDB Chair Santiago, has drugs case on review

NEXT BUCOR CHIEF? Newly-appointed Dangerous Drugs Board chair Dionisio Santiago is Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II's pick for new Bureau of Corrections head amid the drug trade resurgence inside the New Bilibid Prison File photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chairman Dionisio Santiago has an old drugs case, that although already dismissed, is on automatic review by no less than Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, the same person who wants him to head the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Erickson Balmes confirmed on Tuesday, July 18 that the automatic review of Santiago's case has been transferred from the Offce of the Prosecutor General (OPG) to Aguirre's office.

"That's already a dismissed case. Automatic review is part of the process," Santiago told Rappler in a text message, saying it was a "crazy" case initiated "by shady characters" of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

In 2012, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a complaint before the DOJ against Santiago for violation of Sections 5 and 7 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

The complaint alleged that Santiago, as former head of the PDEA, allowed the illegal sale of contrabands such as chemicals seized during the agency's operations. Santiago was no longer with PDEA when the complaint was filed.

"Ang mga nag-file ay shady characters ng PDEA who later on wanted to use me against (former PDEA chairmen) Jose Gutierrez Jr and Arturo G. Cacdac Jr.," Santiago said.

(The people who filed the complaint are shady characters of PDEA who later on wanted to use me against Gutierrez and Cacdac.)

Balmes said the case was dismissed during the previous DOJ leadership, by former Prosecutor General Claro Arellano. Balmes has yet to respond to request for a full copy of Arellano's resolution dismissing the case.

The process of automatic review of illegal drugs cases has been DOJ rules since 2003.

Aguirre has formally sent a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte recommending Santiago to become the next BuCor chairman, replacing Benjamin De Los Santos who resigned last week.

BuCor is plagued by issues of drug trade resurgence, which became one of the reasons for De Los Santos' resignation. De Los Santos said the issue has made him "irrelevant."

Santiago added: "They charged also the destruction facility Green Planet. Up to now that company continues to serve PDEA. They were also exonerated. A lot of innocent people were dragged though nobody benefitted from it. It is a crazy case na discredited people ang nag-initiate."

Two agencies? Why not?

In an earlier text message, Santiago said he is willing to lead both the DDB and BuCor if given the chance. Santiago was recently named DDB Chair by Duterte after the President unceremoniously fired Benjamin Reyes for contradicting the figures of drug addicts.

Santiago is Duterte's source for his figure of 4 million drug addicts in the Philippines, in contrast to DDB's own count of only 1. 8 million.

"The campaign will be more effective with that arrangement. However, we have to verify first and see to it that there will be no violation of the law," Santiago said. 

Aguirre has not responded to Rappler as of posting time asking if there is a conflict given that he is handling the automatic review of Santiago's case.

In his recommendation letter sent to Duterte on July 14, Aguirre praised Santiago "for the continuity of leadership and programs that deals with the eradication of proliferation of drug transactions inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) and other penitentiaries under the supervision of the Secretary of the DOJ."

Santiago is a retired general who Aguirre said "can very well lead the BuCor."

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 or tweet @lianbuan.