MANILA – It is not just the illegal drug trade, but the so-called “kubol” or luxury cottages that have made a comeback at the New Bilibid Prisons, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said Thursday, after inspecting the facility.
Aguirre spoke to reporters after authorities waged on Thursday another “Oplan Galugad” to clear the detention areas of all contraband, especially in the medium security area where high-profile inmates from maximum security had been transferred earlier.
Joining Aguirre at the latest Oplan Galugad was National Police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration and the PNP’s Special Action Force that had been assigned to the NBP to strictly enforce operations against illegal activities.
Besides the resurgent drug trade that he had earlier denounced, Aguirre said they found new cottages, several of them airconditioned and tiled.
Oplan Galugad covered Building 14, and the maximum and medium security compounds.
“So we’ve found out that besides the drug resurgence the ‘kubol’ have made a comeback, according to the head of the SAF there, General Lusad. He said they saw new cottages in the medium security area that were newly built – maybe just a few weeks ago – and these were airconditioned,” Aguirre said, partly in Filipino.
Asked how this could have happened right beneath the noses of authorities, Aguirre said he had the same question.
The Justice chief also denied he had approved the transfer of the high-profile inmates from the maximum security compound to the medium security compound, where rules are relatively lax. Some of these high-profile inmates were imprisoned on drug charges and had earlier tied then-Justice secretary Leila de Lima to the prison drug trade.
Earlier this week, they were reported as threatening to retract their testimony against de Lima if they were returned to maximum security where, they claimed, their lives could be in danger. However, Aguirre said there was no indication such threat indeed came from the inmates.
“Unang una, hindi malinaw kung bakit yang mga high-profile na drug lords na ‘yan ay nilipat from Building 14 at saka from maximum, nilipat to medium [First of all, it’s unclear why those high-profile drug lords were moved from Maximum to Medium],” Aguirre said.
He blamed the former director of the Bureau of Corrections (BUCOR), retired general Benjamin de los Santos, for the transfer.
Aguirre claimed the actions of de los Santos, who resigned two weeks ago following Aguirre’s pronouncement that the drug trade had returned to NBP, were not cleared with him.
“I don’t meddle with transfers within the penitentiary. That is no longer brought to my attention. I did not approve that. The only thing that is brought to me for approval is the transfer of inmates from one colony to another or one penitentary to a penal colony in the provinces,” Aguirre said.
The PNP-SAF is tasked to watch only the maximum security compound and Building 14, not the medium security compound.
This explained, he said, why the high-profile inmates transferred to the medium compound enjoyed relative freedom.
On Thursday, Aguirre ordered the return of the high-profile inmates to the maximum security compound.
Aguirre also ordered an investigation of the curious timing between the resurgence of the luxury cottages with the transfer of high-profile inmates to the medium compound.
He ordered the immediate destruction of the cottages.
He said they had succeeded in cutting down to just 5 percent the drug trade at NBP since the Duterte administration took over, but rued the return of the illicit drug the past few months.
Before, he said 78 percent of drug transactions were forged in the NBP, and they had cut this down to just 5 percent.
He said even President Duterte had alluded to the return of the drug trade during the anniversary of the NICA and the National Security Council.