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De Lima should be fired over ‘Bilibid Hilton’

You got to give it to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s chutzpa —or maybe her acting talent—to have expressed shock and anger over what the raid discovered at the country’s biggest prison, the New Bilibid, among these: luxury cells with hidden assault rifles, millions of pesos, a full-sized sex doll, a music recording studio, Jacuzzi tubs, and paraphernalia for managing an illegal drug trade.

As secretary of the justice department with the Bureau of Corrections being one of its biggest agencies, hasn’t Leila de Lima been in charge of it for nearly five years now? Shouldn’t she rather feel shame, and resign immediately, for her massive failure to manage our biggest prison that it has become a national embarrassment?

She should be fired immediately really for having supervised what has turned to be a travesty of our penal system.

Frankly, even her boss should really go because of this national embarrassment and clear failure of governance. Next time around, will they let moneyed inmates out armed with Armalites and go shooting people to escape the boredom of prison life?

Aquino in Bilibid, 2012 smiling as he looks at the lethal-injection bed. He should have inspected the suites, instead. Inset: Justice de Lima making sure moneyed inmate Colangco counts the money right.
Aquino in Bilibid, 2012 smiling as he looks at the lethal-injection bed. He should have inspected the suites, instead. Inset: Justice de Lima making sure moneyed inmate Colangco counts the money right.

Didn’t Aquino make a speech in January 2012 right in Bilibid itself in which he launched his so-called “Bureau of Corrections Roadmap” and in which he heaped praise on “every guard, warden, and everyone making up the Bureau of Corrections? “Aquino also said in his speech, translated from Pilipino: “Despite the burden of your responsibilities… you of the Bureau continue to uphold the well-being of your countrymen who are in jail.” Maybe the Bureau took his words too seriously providing the convicts with everything they wanted, even paid sex, it seems.

De Lima’s culpability is indubitable given the fact that she has practically run the Bureau of Corrections herself and weakened its administration by changing its director every year since she assumed office. The current director Franklin Jesus Bucayu was appointed to the post only last March. How can our prisons be run well if the head of the agency in charge of these is changed every year?

Our national prison is just an hour away from her office in Manila, and has been known to be the justice department’s most problematic agency. There has always been intense lobbying for the post, which only on the surface appears unattractive.

That it has become “Bilibid Hilton” for moneyed inmates to live in luxury and even for them to run drug rings can only mean either of two things, or maybe even both:

l De Lima is totally inept in managing it, and ensuring our penal system is a pillar of our justice system; or

l She is in cahoots with the web of corruption in the Bureau of Corrections, and she receives her share of rich and drug-lord inmates huge “rents” for them to live in Bilibid as if they weren’t in prison.

So which is which? For either explanation, she doesn’t have any business being secretary of justice. Or has she been too busy running after former President Arroyo and opposition legislators that she has criminally neglected supervising our penal system?

I am astonished at de Lima’s gall at not thinking that she is so very accountable for “Bilibid Hilton.” (How on earth can a maximum security jail become the operations center for convicted drug lords, whose business obviously have been so lucrative that they needed money-counting machines?)

She could act the way she is acting now, if she had raided the prison a few months ago, or even a year after she became justice secretary June 20, 2010. But nearly five years after?

Under her watch
Bilibid became a “Hilton” only under her and this administration’s watch. This is obvious since most of the rich inmates having luxurious facilities’ in the prison and even managing their drug syndicate from there were incarcerated in Bilibid only under this administration, a few after lengthy trials that started in the mid-2000s. For instance, Herbert Colangco, who even had his music video made in Blibid posted at YouTube, was arrested in 2009 but was transferred to Bilibid only in 2011 after being sentenced.

Why did de Lima order the raid only now? There are three very plausible explanations:

l The “rent” sent to her by the rich inmates and drug lords have stopped or had been reduced, and it was time to remind them what they’ll be missing. Or is it precisely an operation to raise “rents”?

l She got wind of the political opposition and press’ moves to expose “Bilibid Hilton,” so she pre-empted these by raiding it herself. It is a clever move indeed as she could respond to demands for her to resign with a terse: “I was the one who exposed and stopped it.” Indeed, only a few weeks ago, a television network run a series based on interviews with a Bilibid jail guard, who basically exposing “Bilibid Hilton, ” including inmates’ regular access to prostitutes.

l An ambitious – or maybe a morally upright — National Bureau of Investigation official got wind of “Bilibid Hilton” and pressured de Lima to authorize the bureau’s raid. De Lima had no choice but to approve it and decided to grab credit by joining the raid. An unkind explanation would be that the NBI official tried to extort money from the rich inmates and drug lords. When they didn’t cooperate, he ordered the raid.

However, if de Lima’s hands are clean, this episode only demonstrates her and this administration’s incompetence and naiveté. President Aquino inspected Bilibid in 2012, and nobody obviously told him about the ”luxury suites” available for moneyed inmates. Were the drug lords laughing their hearts out as Aquino toured the facility?

Interviewed at length at Channel 9 the other day, Bureau of Corrections Director Bucayo seemed to be more like a principal of a high school rather than a jailer tasked by government to keep its hardened, murderous criminals in jail. It is scandalous that he insists he was faultless in this Bilibid Hilton scandal.

He kept on making the excuse that Bilibid is too overcrowded, and that the guards are underpaid. Overcrowded when moneyed inmates could have their own suites? So low government wages make a good excuse for corruption?

The interviewer, who unfortunately seemed bored over her job, should have asked him why he and his guards couldn’t do the simple task of body-searching everyone who entered Bilibid, and barring anyone bringing such things to the inmates as sex dolls, Bushmaster M-16s, cell-phones, shabu, and millions of pesos.

Is that really so hard for officials of this administration? It isn’t of course if they resist drug money. For drug lords only became Kings of Bilibid during her and Aquino’s watch, and not before.