By Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star)
Photo:Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said he would not deny the existence of illegal drugs in the NBP despite the deployment of the elite police force. EDD GUMBAN, File
MANILA, Philippines - Even before the exposé of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on the resurgence of illegal drug operations at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, the leadership of the Special Action Force wanted the SAF commandos pulled out from the NBP.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said he would not deny the existence of illegal drugs in the NBP despite the deployment of the elite police force.
Dela Rosa said SAF commandos at the NBP do not have full control of the prison premises, spread over a 104-hectare land area.
He said the SAF only guards the maximum security area at Building 14. If the drug lords in Building 14 are transferred to the minimum security area, the SAF no longer has control.
He said the problem is when contraband like gadgets, cellphones and laptop computers are smuggled in through other areas of the prison, the SAF cannot prevent it.
“How I wish the drug lords would be returned to Building 14 so the SAF can guard them,” he added.
With this setup, Dela Rosa admitted he could not deny the existence of illegal drug operations at the NBP.
Since they do not have complete control of the NBP, the SAF requested the pullout to avoid the possibility of their being mistakenly implicated in the illegal drug trade inside the prison.
Aguirre said the resurgence of the illegal activity at the NBP involves at least five to 10 percent of the original operation, which was successfully dismantled under the Duterte administration.
Dela Rosa said some drug lords have found legal intervention and managed to be transferred from the maximum to the medium or minimum security compounds.
He said he would talk to SAF director Chief Superintendent Benjamin Lusad to assess the best possible setup to prevent proliferation of illegal drugs at the NBP and to isolate the SAF from the controversies on illegal drugs.
Dela Rosa added the elite police unit is “overstretched,” since they are also involved in the Marawi City operations as well as problems in the Zamboanga peninsula and Central Mindanao.
As this developed, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon – under whose district the NBP is located – yesterday told the Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider a new site for the state penitentiary.
“The DOJ should seriously consider pursuing a previous plan to transfer the NBP if it wishes to stop the drug trade proliferating within the national penitentiary,” Biazon suggested.
Plans for the NBP’s transfer started during the term of former president and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and were carried over to her successor Benigno Aquino III.
“Under the new administration, it seemed to have been lost completely,” Biazon lamented.
“The basis and justification for the transfer is right there in front of us. Simply assigning soldiers to guard prison facilities will not solve the problem in the long term. It’s time for the DOJ to pursue the transfer to new facilities in a new location,” he insisted, citing subhuman living conditions of the facilities and its location in an urban center as causing the problems at the NBP today.
“There is a lot of motivation for inmates to pay for comfort and drugs is a high-paying business for them. And with money, they can easily tempt the underpaid prison guards. As proven now, even the assignment of SAF troops is not a guarantee of immunity to corruption.”
Illegal drugs, contraband surrendered
Meanwhile, inmates have started surrendering illegal drugs and other contraband inside the NBP following the renewed crackdown on illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary.
Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes yesterday revealed that members of the Sigue-Sigue Sputnik gang surrendered at least 35 small plastic sachets of shabu, six big plastic sachets of shabu, two icepicks and a cellular phone last Monday.
Balmes said the inmates did so following dialogue and negotiations over the weekend.
Aguirre earlier confirmed the resurgence of the illegal drug trade at the NBP and bared plans to replace the contingent of PNP-SAF guarding the national penitentiary, citing the possibility that some SAF members have been tempted by the huge amount of money involved.
P134-M drugs destroyed
In Malabon, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) yesterday destroyed P134 million worth of dangerous drugs at Clean International Corp. in Barangay Maysilo.
Destroyed through thermal decomposition were 44,669.95 grams of shabu, 10.58 grams of marijuana and 28,410 grams of activated carbon with a total value of P134,009,108.70.
Key PDEA officials and other law enforcement agencies, representatives from the DOJ, Dangerous Drugs Board, Public Attorney’s Office and non-governmental organizations were present.
PDEA director general Isidro Lapeña said the destruction is in compliance with the requirements of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act and DDB regulations.
The government will soon roll out a rehabilitation program that aims to transform thousands of drug surrenderers into community leaders capable of responding to disasters and emergency situations.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said Yakap Bayan would provide drug dependents an opportunity to become productive members of society by equipping them with skills useful to their communities.
The program involves six months of rehabilitation and 18 months of reintegration programs that include capacity building activities on disaster response.
“We embrace drug surrenderers with the goal of transforming them into volunteers, then advocates and eventually leaders in the community able to implement disaster resiliency and response programs,” DSWD assistant secretary Jose Antonio Hernandez said.
“As we equip them with different disaster-response skills, the surrenderers will be the primary responders during calamities. If before, they are the ‘headaches’ of society, now they will become active and useful members of the community.”
Successful drug war
Hundreds of former drug dependents from 27 towns and five cities in Nueva Ecija yesterday proclaimed the success of President Duterte’s drug war, as 480 surrenderers joined a friendly basketball conference held simultaneously by district in the province.
“Mark,” a surrenderer from Bongabon town, said he regained his self-esteem and “correct frame of mind” when he entered Bahay Pagbabago in his town a couple of months ago.
Bahay Pagbabago is the localized rehabilitation center established in every municipality and city through the initiative of police offices. The center is equipped with sports facilities and offers livelihood training supported by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or Provincial Manpower Training Center. – With Delon Porcalla, Edu Punay, Emmanuel Tupas, Janvic Mateo, Ric Sapnu