House panel vows ‘fair, objective’ probe on drugs in Bilibid

MANILA, Philippines – The chairperson of the House committee on justice assured that the panel will be impartial in the probe on the drug trade and use at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) from when Senator Leila de Lima was still justice secretary.  

This was the vow of Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali on Monday, September 19, a day before the scheduled investigation, “in aid of legislation," on the NBP while it was still under the leadership of then-justice secretary De Lima under the administration of then-President Benigno Aquino III. 

“For my part, I will try to be fair and objective as possible. We’ll give everyone his due and kayo naman makakikita niyo kung hindi fair itong gagawin natin (you will see if what we are doing is fair or not),” Umali said. 

The NBP, which is under the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) supervision, is notorious for rampant drug use, violence, and corruption among the inmates and prison guards. (READ: DOJ under Duterte admin: Reform BuCor, New Bilibid Prison

Under De Lima, the DOJ conducted over 30 inspections at the NBP in surprise raids called “Oplan Galugad.” 

But President Rodrigo Duterte had accused her of being linked to the illegal drug trade in the NBP. He also alleged that De Lima is in a relationship with her married driver, who collects money from drug lords on her behalf. 

The senator then said she does not plan to attend the House probe because it was designed to “demolish” her upon Duterte’s orders. (READ: De Lima to ignore 'sham' House probe)

“I hope she doesn’t think that way kasi ang sa akin dito (because for me here), let us stick to the issues,” said Umali. (READ: Alvarez: 'Nothing personal' vs De Lima with House probe)

He added that de Lima is his “sis” because the senator belongs to the Lambda Rho Sigma Sorority while Umali is a member of the Lambda Rho Beta Fraternity of the San Beda College of Law. 

“This not about her. This is about the issue on the proliferation of drug syndicates in the New Bilibid Prison. It just so happened when this issue came out in the open, she was the secretary of justice at that time,” said Umali.  

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II already promised an “explosive” congressional inquiry,  saying at least 30 witnesses are set to testify against the de Lima, including high-profile convicts such as Herbert Colangco.

The House committee on justice plans to hold the next hearing on September 21. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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