MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The report of the House committee on justice said it has “clearly established” that the illegal drug trade proliferated at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) under the watch of then justice secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima.
The committee report was passed during the plenary session on Wednesday, October 19. It was approved by the committee members through viva voce voting on October 18.
The committee first clarified that the illegal activities at the NBP existed "long before the time" of De Lima from 2010 to 2015.
The payola system perpetuated by Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials in the early 2000s gave prison gangs special privileges that "caused the escalation" of prohibited activities over the years, including the entry of contraband and the trafficking of women. (READ: Why anomalies happen in Bilibid)
Still, the report said, all witnesses pinned the blame on De Lima.
“Almost all witnesses testified on her involvement in the proliferation of drug syndicates and illegal drug trading inside NBP. Sufficient evidence point to her involvement and possible accountability in these illegal activities,” according to the report of the committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali.
The justice committee, however, fell short of recommending charges to be filed against De Lima. (READ: House minority wants panel to recommend filing charges vs De Lima)
Lawmakers argued that “the determination of probable cause to support the filing of appropriate charges against her is a function of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and/or the Ombudsman.”
The committee instead urged the DOJ to undertake an “in-depth investigation” on her alleged role in the illegal drug trade at the NBP during her stint with the department.
Apart from De Lima, the committee found the following individuals also accountable for the prison drug trade:
But most of the witnesses’ testimonies blamed De Lima. They accused her of coddling drug lords and accepting millions of drug money from within and outside the NBP to allegedly fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.
De Lima supposedly had illicit love affairs with two of her former aides – her ex-bodyguard and driver Dayan as well as her former security aide Joenel Sanchez – who allegedly became her bagmen. (READ: The public trial of Leila de Lima)
The lady senator had belittled the House probe, previously calling it a “sham inquiry” designed by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies to destroy her. The President's fiercest critic refused to participate in the investigation.
The panel said De Lima’s absence during the hearings “may also have given the impression of evading public scrutiny of her past actions."
According to the committee members, there were only a "few inconsistencies" among the testimonies of some witnesses.
Lawmakers said this can be attributed to the witnesses' "desire" to cover up their specific involvement in the drug trade, which, the report said, is only "natural" for witnesses to do to avoid further implicating themselves.
The committee report is expected to be included in the plenary session’s order of business this week.
Other individuals accountable, too
Ragos had categorically admitted before congressmen that he handed millions of pesos in drug money to De Lima through Dayan.
But because Ragos was granted immunity as a witness, the committee recommended that the DOJ instead “maximize” the use of his testimony to indict other officials and individuals involved in the NBP drug trade.
For Bucayu’s case, the House panel admitted that it failed during the hearing to dig deeper into his involvement in illegal drugs because of “lack of material time.”
“Clearly, however, his failure to adopt effective measures to curb this proliferation may amount to either malfeasance, misfeasance, or gross inexcusable negligence,” said the report.
The committee on justice also wants the DOJ to further investigate the accusations that Dayan was a bagman for De Lima.
His failure to appear before congressmen despite a subpoena, said the report, is an “implied admission of guilt.” An arrest warrant was issued against him.
De Lima, Bucayu, Dayan, and 5 others are already facing a drug trafficking complaint filed on October 11 by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.
The House justice committee also proposed some legislative measures in its report.
Lawmakers now want to reimpose the death penalty on drug cases. They also recommend the “granting of exceptions” to the Anti-Wiretapping Law, Bank Secrecy Law, and Anti-Money Laundering Law covering inmates and drug-related cases.
The panel also suggested several changes in the administration and structure of BuCor and NBP.
A copy of the committee report is found below: