3 witnesses vs De Lima moved back to Bilibid maximum security compound

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) confirmed on Friday, July 28, that high-profile convicts, including witnesses against detained Senator Leila de Lima, have been moved back to Building 14 of the maximum security compound at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Drug convicts Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co were transferred Friday morning to Building 14, the DOJ said. Baligad is in Cell 23 while Sy and Co were placed in Cell 26.

Sy, Baligad, and Co were moved to the medium security compound in October 2016, after they were hurt in a riot inside Building 14 last year. (READ: High-profile inmate killed, 4 hurt in Bilibid 'riot')

Sy, Baligad, Co, Herbert Colanggo, and Engelbert Durano are the DOJ's 5 witnesses against De Lima in the senator's 3 drug cases pending before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court.

The transfer comes amid the "resurgence" of the drug trade in the national penitentiary, which Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and even President Rodrigo Duterte have confirmed. (READ: Aguirre takes over BuCor, leads surprise inspection of Bilibid)

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa earlier defended the Special Action Force (SAF) team assigned in Bilibid, saying they have no control of the medium or minimum security compounds. Dela Rosa said then that high-profile drug convicts should be moved back to the maximum security compound.

Colanggo and Durano are detained at the military facilities in Camp Aguinaldo.

The inmates moved back to Building 14 are Rico Caja, Joel Capones, and Baligad to Cell 23; Benjamin Marcelo and Sam Lee Chua to Cell 24; Hanz Anton Tan and Che Kit Chua to Cell 25; and Co and Sy to Cell 26. 

Co is one of the 3 Chinese "drug lords" that Duterte had threatened to kill if they escaped from prison, in the first week of his presidency. The others are Colanggo and Peter Lim.

"All these cells are located in Block Charlie while Jaybee Sebastian is in Block Alpha far from the cells of the 9," the DOJ said on Friday. Sebastian is not a witness against De Lima.

The inmates who were tapped to become state witnesses against De Lima were cleared of drug charges

Issues of 'recanting'

Lawyer Francis Acejas claims two other inmates – Froilan Trestiza and Hanz Anton Tan – remain under the Witness Protection Program (WPP) "to corroborate testimonies by the others" against De Lima.

On Wednesday, Acejas held a press conference appealing to Aguirre not to transfer the witnesses to the maximum security compound, where at least two inmates had been stabbed to death. 

Inmate Efren Ventura was killed in a stabbing incident on July 10. Three days later, then Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Benjamin de los Santos resigned after Aguirre cited the "resurgence" of the Bilibid drug trade.

Acejas' group, Karapatan sa Batas at Lipunang may Katarungan (Kabalikat), also claimed that an inmate's wife and relatives were "kidnapped on separate occasions after their visit at Building 14."

If the witnesses are moved back to the maximum security compound, Kabalikat said "certain shadowy or unknown" personalities will move to discredit the witnesses, and thus will weaken the case against De Lima.

"The uncertainty surrounding the status of those witnesses under the Witness Protection Program and those who gave information becomes worrisome to themselves because of the high risk of exposure to danger if they are transferred immediately back to Building 14," Kabalikat said in a statement.

"[The witnesses] currently feel short-changed of their side if the DOJ will suddenly remove their security protection by sending them back to the maximum compound, including their relatives," the group added.

This caused confusion because Acejas was quoted in the press conference as saying that the witnesses might recant their testimonies against De Lima if they are moved back to Building 14.

Acejas retracted his statement immediately and told the Inquirer: "There is no such thing as recantation because right now we do not want to jeopardize [the case against De Lima]."

Asked to clarify again on Friday, Acejas referred Rappler to the original Kabalikat statement. – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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