More bombshells are expected when the Senate digs deeper into the controversies surrounding the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) with the attendance of former police general and now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong as resource speaker.
It was Magalong who mapped out a plan to raid the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in 2014, but never got to fully implement reforms in the national penitentiary as he was hedged by other high-ranking officials.
In a text message to Daily Tribune, Magalong confirmed his attendance in the next joint inquiry by the Senate Committees on Blue Ribbon and Justice and Human Rights, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, on Thursday.
A former director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and author of Operation Plan (Oplan) “Cronus,” he said he was not provided with specific issues or matters that would be discussed during the hearing.
“There was none,” Magalong replied, when asked by Daily Tribune of the scope of his testimony.
However, he does not mince information when asked. He was the head of the Board of Inquiry that pinned down former President Aquino in the Mamasapano massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in January 2015.
Oplan “Cronus” was designed to launch simultaneous raids inside the NBP in 2014 amid reports of the proliferation of illegal drugs and other activities inside the Maximum Security Compound.
“Cronus” was a product of discreet meetings among top officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).
He presented the plan to then secretary of the Department of Justice (DoJ) and now detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
Eventually, he and the CIDG were dropped from the actual raid that De Lima herself led on 15 December 2014 or months after “Cronus” was presented by Magalong.
On the part of the PDEA, it was only asked to provide K-9 units hours before the actual raid.
Among the units involved in the raid were the NBP, led by then director Frank Jesus Bucayu; National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which was directly under the supervision of De Lima as Justice secretary; the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), then under Director Marcelo Garbo Jr., and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) under Reginald Villasanta.
Garbo, Bucayu and Villasanta are mistahs or classmates from the Philippine Military Academy “Dimalupig” Class of 1981.
Garbo was also among the “narco generals” identified by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We (CIDG) and PDEA were disappointed,” Magalong told an earlier congressional hearing on the matter.
He stressed that it was Bucayu who asked him not to proceed with Oplan “Cronus.”
The raid resulted in the dismantling of kubols or the individual dwellings of high-profile inmates equipped with bath tubs, air-conditioning units and entertainment systems.
De Lima also subsequently ordered the transfer of the “Bilibid 19” or the high-profile inmates, mostly convicted of peddling illegal drugs, from the NBP to the NBI, except for Jaybee Sebastian, also a drug lord.
Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II then said that Magalong’s testimony about the aborted Oplan “Cronus” would back up the allegation that De Lima led the NBI raid without the CIDG to pull out 19 high-profile inmates alleged to be the competing with Sebastian in the drug trade.
De Lima allegedly transferred the Bilibid 19 to allow Sebastian to monopolize the trade in the NBP to raise campaign funds for the 2016 senatorial race.
In the ongoing Senate inquiry into the BuCor mess, including the abuse on Republic Act 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law, Gordon raised the possibility that De Lima could have benefitted from the illegal activities inside NBP during her time as justice chief to raise funds for her campaign.
De Lima has been under detention since February 2017 for drug-related charges, including alleged collection of millions of pesos from convicted drug lords as alleged by Rafael Ragos, former BuCor officer-in-charge during De Lima’s tenure as justice chief.
Just like De Lima, Ragos and Bucayu were also implicated and charged in the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs inside NBP.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson both agreed to allow De Lima to present her side on the GCTA issue as she had released many convicts during her DoJ stint.
With Hananeel Bordey