P10 million per month ‘rental’?

De Lima knew about “Bilibid Resort” a year ago, why did she move only now?

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had been informed a year ago by Philippine National Police officers that organized-crime lords were living luxury lifestyles inside Bilibid Prison, with the drug kingpins even continuing their drug operations from there.

Yet de Lima had dragged her foot for months and refused – until last week – to raid the prison so as to stop those scandalous operations at Bilibid. Why?

“We were very angry why de Lima was not doing anything,” a police officer said. “We risk our lives in operations, police officers were killed by these criminals, we refuse millions of pesos in bribes, only to find out that the criminals we sent to jail are living in luxury in Bilibid and are even allowed to get out for entertainment,” he said.

In a radio interview, jueteng whistle-blower Sandra Cam also disclosed that her group had brought an ex-jail guard Kabungsuan Makilala to de Lima who told her under oath all the corruption at Bilibid back in 2012. De Lima though refused to take him into the department’s witness protection program and refused to believe his testimony.

“Bilibid Resorts Board of Directors,” from top right counter-clockwise: Justice Department Secretary Leila de Lima (photo is her official one posted in the DOJ’s website); Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Bureau of Corrections director; Celso Bravo, officer-in-charge of the Assistant Director for Prison and Security; and Roberto Rabo, superintendent of New Bilibid Prison.
“Bilibid Resorts Board of Directors,” from top right counter-clockwise: Justice Department Secretary Leila de Lima (photo is her official one posted in the DOJ’s website); Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Bureau of Corrections director; Celso Bravo, officer-in-charge of the Assistant Director for Prison and Security; and Roberto Rabo, superintendent of New Bilibid Prison.

“One informant told us about two-dozen gang leaders there, especially the drug lords,” the police officer said, “contribute to pay P10 million monthly, their ‘rent’ to officials in charge of Bilibid — from the guards to officials at the justice-department level—so they would be allowed to do as they please inside Bilibid.”

What has recently been exposed in media, the officer claimed, is only the tip of the iceberg as the convicts were tipped a week before that there would be such a raid. “So only those who were so hard-headed that they didn’t believe in the warning are in trouble now,” the officer claimed.

De Lima’s raiding party contained not a single PNP personnel. She had not informed even the top leadership of the PNP, even interior secretary Mar Roxas, about the raid.

The officer claimed that President Aquino seemed to have totally trusted de Lima that his group’s efforts to push de Lima to act through media exposes accomplished nothing. Throughout this year, there were indeed occasional reports in newspapers and television about Bilibid being run by drug lords.

Chief Inspector Roque Merdegia Jr, of the PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force was bold enough in June 2014 —six months ago—to publicly ask the Justice department to investigate the VIP treatment of drug lords the task force had arrested.

Merdegia reported at that time hat his task force’s had conducted an operation inside Bilibid and discovered that some high-profile convicts were staying in air-conditioned rooms with their own flat screen television and hot and cold shower. Merdegia also claimed that top drug lords were even allowed to go to top-of-the-line hospitals for “check-ups” and whenever they feel they have to consult with their doctors.

The Justice department ordered a probe, which however investigated solely why certain convicts were allowed to leave prison to go to their chosen hospitals, and even to visit their homes.

It is astonishing how in the face of this national embarrassment, this total failure of government (how could drug lords continue their criminal operations in a jail, and even have high-powered assault rifles?) those accountable for it aren’t immediately suspended.

These are Justice Secretary de Lima who supervises the Bureau of Corrections, its director Franklin Bucayu, his deputy in charge of prisons Celso Bravo, and the New Bilibid warden Roberto Rabo.

They should be immediately suspended, all their files and computers confiscated as these may contain evidence of their collusion\ with the convicts. Their bank accounts must be investigated by the Anti Money Laundering Council to determine if they received suspicious funds.

If there is a topic the Senate should be investigating in aid of legislation, it is the penal system. On one level, it has become the center of drug syndicates and a luxury resort, and on another it is hell for most of its occupants.

Such an investigation would unearth the answer to the most intriguing question right now: Why, after being informed of how Bilbid has been converted into a resort and nerve-center of drug lords more than a year ago, did de Lima act against these only now?

I’m astonished why President Aquino seems nonchalant about the scandal that is the “Bilibid Resort,” telling de Lima that it’s only the “high powered guns that worries him.”

What? Doesn’t he even remember his basic law courses that emphasized that the fifth pillar (after “community,” police, prosecutors, and courts) is the penal system? What would be the use of all the four pillars if, at the end of the day criminals are not only unpunished but are able to direct their criminal syndicates—from inside the penal system.

Cliché it certainly is, but I can’t help saying it: Only in the Philippines. Maybe also: Only under this incompetent government.

Our penal system under Aquino has given an entirely new meaning to South African legend Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.”