Too many credible witnesses claim Bilibid drug lords gave her tons of money

There’s just too many credible witnesses alleging that Senator Leila de Lima, when she was President Aquino’s Justice Secretary, protected the lucrative billion-peso drug trade in the Bilibid National Prisons, and that they, upon de Lima’s demand, raised at least P20 million for her campaign to get a senatorial seat in the last elections.

I listened yesterday to the testimonies of seven out of the more than 30 witnesses whom the Justice department said submitted sworn testimonies linking de Lima to the Bilibid drug lords. Contrast that to the single, very dubious witness Norie Unas who accused former Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “electoral sabotage” in the 2007 elections, for which she was incarcerated for four years. Unas was a long-time assistant of Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., the top suspect in the Maguindanao Massacre, and was threatened to be included among the 36 accused if he didn’t testify against Arroyo. Or to another single witness, an admitted killer Edgardo Matobato, who implicated President Duterte in the operations of the Davao Death Squad.

I watched the whole afternoon the other day until the evening the House of Representatives’ Justice Committee’s hearings in which Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre presented the witnesses, together with their signed, sworn testimonies.

You can only appreciate how credible the witnesses are, how much De Lima is in deep trouble, if you endured eight-hours listening to the hearing, as I did.

The hearing revealed how far from being an Inquisition the hearings were, contrary to those conducted during the Aquino administration. Justice Committee chair Reynaldo Umali, who presided over these recent hearings, was a Liberal Party stalwart, its treasurer during the past regime. How certain congressmen grilled the witnesses in their clumsy attempts to destroy their credibility but failed, as Rep. Vicente Veloso tried to do in an irritating, stupid way. How deep de Lima’s personal and financial involvement had been with the drug lords, that she visited its maximum-security section a dozen of times. How much the National Prison had been made into a drug lords resort, that one Chinese-Filipino drug lord claimed he paid Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan P1 million to be transferred back from its prisons in an island province to Bilibid. How huge the illegal drug trade had been under de Lima and Aquino, with two Chinese-Filipino drug lords estimating it as a billion-peso industry. How intimate De Lima’s relationship with her driver-security aide Ronnie Dayan, with the man reportedly even dominating her, at the same time acting as her agent, who collected the dirty drug money for her.

She needs a miracle: Alleged druglord inmate Colanggo, among many, testifying against De Lima at the House hearing. (Right) Praying at the CBCP chapel.
She needs a miracle: Alleged druglord inmate Colanggo, among many, testifying against De Lima at the House hearing. (Right) Praying at the CBCP chapel.

It is a shame, and even scandalous, that the TV networks devoted only a few minutes to its coverage of the hearings. GMA 7 even had a much longer coverage of de Lima crying (literally) that she is being persecuted, and speaking in a Holy Mass at the CBCP chapel. (Are these priests and nuns who allowed her to do so ignorant or plain stupid that they didn’t see that she was simply using them to stage her fake drama of being persecuted, as Jun Lozada did?)

No doubt on witnesses
I have watched so many such hearings in Congress, and I have to say there can be no doubt on the veracity of the witnesses’ main testimony. “Main,” as there were differences in some details they presented, but such inconsistencies only mean that they weren’t given a script to follow, and they were in certain cases, trying to save their own necks. For example: Jaybee Sebastian claims he wasn’t the top drug lord in prison, contesting Herbert Colangco’s testimony. It was Colangco who was the top drug lord, Sebastian claimed.

The witnesses’ backgrounds were so diverse and their involvements in activities inside the Bilibid Prison so different.

Among them: the Filipino-Chinese drug-lord inmates Vicente Sy and Peter Co, who procured the supply of shabu from abroad and in the country; the three gang leaders who distributed within and outside the prison camp the illegal drugs supplied by the Chinese-Filipinos, Herbert Colangco, Jaybee Sebastian and Nonilo Arile; Colangco’s “talent manager” Reynante Diaz, a non-inmate who managed the gang leader’s concerts in the national prison, and procured high-class prostitutes for him; a former National Bureau of Investigation deputy director who supervised Bilibid for a time, Rafael Ragos; former police officer and kidnapping convict Rodolfo Magleo; and even de Lima’s two close-in security personnel, who were soldiers assigned from the Presidential Security Guards.

Such a diverse a group of witnesses against de Lima – all accusing the former justice secretary De Lima of mainly two things:

First, that she made her security aide and driver Ronnie Dayan not only her lover but her personal assistant and accomplice in asking for and physically receiving bribe money from the Bilibid drug lords amounting to tens of millions of pesos. Dayan, through de Lima, asked the drug lords for more money to finance her bid to become senator in the 2016 elections.

“De Lima and Dayan were the “powers that be” at the justice department and in Bilibid, former NBI deputy director Ragos, who claims his family had been close friends of de Lima, said. De Lima had fallen for Dayan so much that in a quarrel, one witness claimed, the driver even pointed a gun in anger at the justice secretary. Dayan has refused to appear before the committee on justice hearings, so that the committee issued an arrest order for him and directed law enforcement agencies to capture him.

Second, de Lima, according to the witnesses, received tens of millions of pesos from the drug lords in exchange for their protection against the law, including the alleged payment of P800,000 from the enterprise that provided the Bilibid staff’s meals. While the precise amount could not be determined as it wasn’t clear if money delivered to her by different people, for instance by NBI official Ragos, was different from those the drug lords claimed they raised for her. The former counted P14.5 million as the amount he delivered to de Lima. Incumbent Justice Secretary Aguirre said he has proof that the total bribe money de Lima got since 2013 would not be less than P100 million.

I think De Lima had been so confident that her involvement in the Bilibid drug trade would never be exposed since she expected the Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas to win the presidency, and that her becoming a senator would make her politically invincible. Hubris has often been the cause of the haughty politician’s fall.

Complicated operation
Not by any stretch of imagination could this administration expect a justice secretary to be so scheming as to have hatched and implemented such a complicated operation for these diverse witnesses to make such allegations against de Lima.

Such project is simply beyond this administration. So far, it has even demonstrated such clumsiness and lack of central control — it has even forgotten to fire officials of government corporations appointed by, and extremely loyal to, the past president —that it would be impossible for it to have orchestrated thee accusations against de Lima. With the level of commitment and intelligence those congressmen have, they would never have been able to stage a persecution.

It is striking, really, that de Lima has not denied that Dayan was her lover. She dismisses this as something personal she has the right not to discuss. Her accusers, though, say their relationship had moved out of the personal dimension, as it was Dayan who had mainly received the dirty money for her, and because of her reputation as de Lima’s lover and accomplice, had even his own money-raising rackets in Bilibid and even in other justice department jurisdictions. The number of credible witnesses against her has demolished her pretense of being victimized by people “who don’t have balls” as she claimed.

What kind of a country have we become under Aquino that Bilibid, the national prison inside which those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes are supposed to be locked up and suffer for their crime, had become not only some kind of a hotel resort, a little “Las Vegas” as the drug lord inmates themselves dubbed that maximum-security compound? That it has also become the headquarters of convicted drug lords from where they continue to operate and enjoy life with the tons of money they generate from their drug dealings to afford the cost of regularly bringing in prostitutes, including paying former starlet Rosanna Roces P25,000 each time she pimped for them, as she claims?

What kind of a country have we become under Aquino that the justice secretary had become one of the country’s worst violators of the law, and yet was able to acquire a seat in the Senate?

If the extent of corruption under the Aquino administration could transform Bilibid into such a criminal’s paradise from which they benefited by receiving tens of millions of pesos of dirty money, what other dark secrets of their corruption have not yet been brought to light?

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com