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Philippine senator: Rich convicts, not government, control prison

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer) — The government has practically lost control of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City to wealthy convicts, most of them drug lords, who have co-opted prison personnel by paying them off, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said on Sunday.

Lacson said the situation was quite evident from the testimony of two prisoners and officials of the Bureau of Corrections or BuCor who appeared in the five hearings conducted so far by the Senate justice and human rights committee.

He noted that the BuCor officials and the two convicts confirmed the sale of good conduct time allowance, prostitution, round-the-clock gambling and “hospital pass for sale” that prison officials have allowed to thrive in the national penitentiary.

Click to enlarge
Former mayor and police officer Jose Galario Jr., and his daughter Greizl Galario Fernandez, take their oaths at the continuing Philippine Senate probe on Sept. 12, 2019 in Pasay, Metro Manila on the failed release of former Mayor Antonio Sanchez who was convicted in the 1993 rape and murders of two students.  AP

The Senate inquiry, presided over by Sen. Richard Gordon, the committee chair, was triggered by the aborted premature release of Antonio Sanchez, the former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, who was sentenced to seven 40-year terms for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez in 1995.

“One thing clearly established is that it seemed that high-profile inmates [have] become powerful and rich that they, not the government, [are] virtually managing the state penitentiary,” Lacson said in a radio interview.

Besides ordering the place of detention of fellow convicts, he said wealthy prisoners had also been able to trade illegal drugs right from Bilibid.

“That means it has gone so bad that the government has become helpless and the inmates [are] the ones in control,” he said.

Lacson said the conditions had become so conducive to illegal activities that some convicts had opted to stay in prison since it allowed them to securely operate their nefarious businesses.

“They can order the killing of anyone they want dead. They earn money. If they want women, they can bring in women,” Lacson said.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies had claimed that the illegal drug trade in the state penitentiary flourished on the watch of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima as justice secretary in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

The president’s allegations eventually led to the indictment of De Lima, who investigated the killings in his brutal drug war, for drug trafficking based on the testimony of Bilibid convicts, including several convicted drug lords.

Lacson said De Lima should be allowed to defend herself against claims blaming her for the erroneous application of the good conduct law that led to the premature release of more than 2,000 heinous crime convicts.

He said De Lima should also be given a chance to answer the accusations linking her to corruption in Bilibid when she was justice secretary.

Lacson said he had introduced a resolution, coauthored by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, urging the Senate to allow De Lima to participate in plenary deliberations through teleconferencing.

“I agree, as I believe, that Senator De Lima should be given an opportunity to rebut the accusations against her in the same forum. I hope the committee can agree on the mechanics to make it happen,” Lacson said.