Money talks at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), and it could have reverberated the loudest at the time of former President Benigno Aquino III and detained Sen. Leila de Lima as his Justice secretary from 2010 to 2016.
This was revealed by Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong during yesterday’s Senate inquiry into the BuCor mess, particularly on the proliferation of illegal drugs and other illegal activities inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
As reported by Daily Tribune on Tuesday, Magalong did not mince words when asked by lawmakers, led by Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon and Justice and Human Rights Committees that jointly conducted the hearing.
Magalong, who mapped out an operation plan (Oplan) to raid the NBP in 2014 as director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), confirmed that “money talks” at the BuCor.
He stressed that the corruption at the BuCor and NBP peaked during the time of Aquino as Chief Executive and De Lima as Justice secretary, who had direct supervision over the two agencies.
“This started small, then it became bigger. Between those years, let us say 2010 to 2016, it worsened. There were a lot of individual dwellings, would you say that’s correct, Mr. Magalong?” Gordon asked, to which the mayor replied affirmatively.
“But before that, let’s say from 2010 to 2004, was it worse?” he asked again.
Magalong said, “It was really worse during that (2010-2016) period, Sir.”
The former CIDG chief also bared that all aspects of management at BuCor could be used in money-making schemes, like the “kubols” or individual dwellings.
“It would range to millions (of pesos),” said Magalong, who claimed to having a very extensive network inside the NBP.
He said gambling is a normal activity within the facility, and having huge amounts of cash at hand is usual, even as vaults are being smuggled into the NBP.
“Mr. Chair, your guess is as good as mine. Money talks,” Magalong said.
Gordon presented data showing that during De Lima’s tenure as Justice secretary from 1 July 2010 to 11 October 2015, a total of 8,932 inmates were freed by BuCor.
Of the number, 3,943 were convicted of heinous crimes, while 4,965 were regular convicts.
The number of releases under De Lima’s watch was noticeably very high compared to her successors Alfredo Caguioa with only 555; Emmanuel Caparas with 1,234; Vitaliano Aguirre II with 3,675, and incumbent Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra with 3,746.
Magalong also told the Senate that he noted that De Lima went cold to his proposed raid at NBP in 2014.
“Every time that we met, I would ask her about the raid. She would say, ‘Just wait Benjie.’ I felt then that the enthusiasm (of De Lima) has gone,” he said.
Evolution of ‘ninja cops’
During the hearing, Magalong explained how rogue members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), some of whom are still in active service, engaged in the recycling of illegal drugs.
Using the scheme “Agaw Bato” or seize shabu, Magalong narrated how scalawags at the PNP-CIDG would keep seized illegal drugs and make money out of them.
The scheme is to underdeclare the confiscated drugs. Members of the rogue group were also tagged in freeing arrested Chinese drug lords in exchange for P50 million.
“It slowly evolved into an enterprise — they are now selling, recycling the drugs,” he added.
“As a result of the intelligence operations and operational research we conducted, it was revealed that personalities involved in the ‘Agaw Bato’ scheme deal transact with inmates inside the New Bilibid Prison,” he disclosed.
He said the management of the drug trade in the country was being organized by high profile drug personalities inside the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa.
“Based on our investigation, all roads practically led to NBP and we found out that despite being detained inside the New Bilibid Prison, these Chinese drug personalities continue to remotely manage the drug trade in the entire country,” Magalong added.
This led to the formulation of Magalong’s Oplan “Cronus” aimed at launching simultaneous raids inside the NBP, which De Lima stalled.
Eventually, she led her own NBP raid on 15 December 2014, but without Magalong, who even volunteered to be the ground commander of the operation and the CIDG.
On the other hand, then BuCor chief Frank Jesus Bucayu and Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission chief Reginald Villasanta, who were dissuading Magalong to proceed with the raid, took part in it.
“Up to now, I am still puzzled why I was not included in that raid… and still wondering why the long delay… almost five months,” he said.
The former CIDG chief said he will reveal the identities of police officials involved the drug trade, including a former head of the CIDG, in an executive session.
Magalong pointed out that the problem at NBP is “structural and systemic.”
He recommended an organizational audit, the designation of a strong leader and the procurement of high-tech management tools to address pervasive corruption in the agency.
The Department of Justice wants power back over the bureau, one of its attached agencies, saying its authority was reduced by the passage of the Republic Act 10575, the law strengthening the BuCor.
Magalong suggested the introduction of digital governance tools in bureau operations, saying existing tools like CCTV cameras and signal jammers are traditional, but their operators can be easily corrupted.
He said there are artificial intelligence cameras that could quickly gather and analyze captured data. The technology, he said, may cost the government P300 million or P400 million, but claimed that “the benefit will offset the cost.”
Sen. Franklin Drilon expressed full support to Magalong’s proposal and asked Guevarra to propose a budget for the project.
With Mario J. Mallari