The Senate digs deeper into the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) scandal with a new witness who Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said would spill something big in today’s continuation of the probe on anomalies happenings inside the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
During an ambush interview on Wednesday, Go said the witness will be an official who is willing to testify.
“He is a witness of what is really happening inside the (New Bilibid Prison) Hospital, the transactions inside the hospital,” Go indicated.
The senator noted the testimony of the witness is connected to the trafficking of drugs inside the NBP.
“They are calling the shots. They are trafficking illegal drugs and (other) transactions. Those eight who were involved here are drug convicts. They are involved in drugs before and they continue to do their illegal drug transaction even if they are already in jail,” he said.
The legislator said BuCor’s problem is not solely the inmates, but the employees as well.
“The problem of BuCor is their own guards,” Go claimed.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he has signed seven subpoenas addressed to new resource persons for the Senate probe.
“Subpoenas deuces tecum (to produce evidence) will be included. There were personalities that will be presented tomorrow. As we speak, one of the persons is on his way here and we will keep him overnight,” Sotto added.
Racket cracked open
“We expect them to tell everything that has happened in the Bureau of Corrections before until the present and how we will be able to stop it, and how we will be able to build a better penitentiary, so that these events will no longer happen,” he added.
Among the seven resource persons, four will be presented as witnesses. The Senate chief hoped the Senate panel will complete the hearing today, so that a report will be transmitted to the plenary soon after.
Sotto also disclosed they have received an update from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on the forensic report on the mobile phone of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez’s common-law wife.
In a previous Senate hearing, Elvira Sanchez told the panel that she received information through a text message that the former mayor will be released on 20 August.
Call from inside a cell
“What they traced is, (the text) came inside (the NBP). It was a text from an inmate. As a matter of fact, that is not only a text, Mrs. Sanchez did not give accurate facts. They got a call,” Sotto divulged.
He said DICT is still identifying the owner of the number.
“DICT was able to give Senator (Panfilo) Lacson a copy already. I was furnished a copy. We already submitted it to the committee of Senator (Richard) Gordon,” he added.
On the other hand, Go said President Rodrigo Duterte is currently finding a new BuCor chief, suggesting a “killer” who is fit for the position should sit as the new director-general of the agency.
“The President is already exasperated with this BuCor (mess) and he is looking for someone who will head the BuCor. Maybe he is finding someone that is a former military or retired police but for me, I recommend… a killer,” Go said.
Moreover, Gordon ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to retrieve the messages deleted and call logs from the phones of BuCor personnel Maria Belinda Bansil and Veronica Buño.
“We want the NBI to check if the phones were tampered, with messages and call logs deleted. Upon checking, we saw that one phone has only five messages, while the other has two. Why would they delete if they are not hiding anything? That shows that it is happening, that they are asking for money. Then they erased it so that these will not be used as evidence. That could be obstruction of justice,” he said earlier.
More probes set
Former BuCor chiefs Sen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa and Nicanor Faeldon are among the officials being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman for possible criminal and administrative charges over the alleged anomalous implementation of Republic Act 10592 or the GCTA Law.
During the plenary deliberation into the Ombudsman’s budget for 2020, House Appropriations Committee vice chairman and Zamboanga del Norte 1st District Rep. Romeo Jalosjos Jr., the lawmaker who defended the office’s budget, was asked if all BuCor officials since 2014 are under investigation.
To this, Jalosjos, being assisted by officials of the Office of the Ombudsman, answered in the affirmative and said Faeldon is also under investigation.
“What about Senator Bato?” Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate asked.
“As mentioned all present and past are now under investigation,” Jalosjos said in response.
OP funds secured
The Senate Committee on Finance, meanwhile, has swiftly approved the P8.2 billion budget of the Office of the President (OP).
Presided over by Go, the Senate panel discussed the financial request of the OP, which was 21 percent higher than the P6.773 billion budget in the 2019 General Appropriations Act.
On the proposed budget, a huge part of the budget will be allocated to maintenance and other operating expenses with P6.703 billion followed by the personnel services with P1.070-billion and capital outlay with P427 million.
In the P8.201-billion, OP’s operational expenses will include the Presidential Oversight Program, which will be getting P5.272 billion under their proposed budget, while the Presidential Advisory Program will be allocated P122 million, Presidential Legal and Legislative Service Program with P173 million, and Presidential Executive Staff Services Program with P1.111 billion.
The General Administration and Support Services will be allocated with P1.521 billion.
Before Go started the deliberations, the long-time presidential aide said he will maintain a balance in the approval of the OP’s budget.
“You are all familiar to me, but now that we’re on (different branches), that doesn’t mean that I will not scrutinize you all,” Go said.
Observe checks, balances
“I will follow the check and balance of government,” he added.
He reminded the media to ensure balanced reporting of the budget deliberations.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who presented the President’s budget at the Senate, said these funds will be vital to Duterte administration’s priorities.
“The Office of the President provides administrative, advisory, consultative and other support services to the President that enables him to effectively perform his duties as the country’s Chief Executive,” Medialdea said.
“The proposed budget was formulated with the directions, policies and priorities of the President in line with tools necessary to achieve them,” he added.
Last Friday, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations also deferred the scrutiny of the budget with respect to the tradition of the House to accord a co-equal branch of government “courtesy.”
With Keith Calayag