MANILA, July 27— Justi Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Thursday stood pat on his decision to return the high-profile inmacetes to their original cells at the maximum security compound in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
Aguirre gave this comment following reports that some high profile inmates intend to recant their testimonies in the drug cases filed against detained Senator Leila De Lima on her alleged complicity in the narcotics trade inside the NBP.
Aguirre said he already issued the department order where they should be transferred immediately, but apparently, the officers did not heed the Department Order No. 496 dated July 24, 2017 directing BuCor under officer-in-charge Rey Ragaas to immediately return the convicted drug lords from the medium security compound to their original detention facility.
“All inmates who were previously transferred from Building 14 to maximum security or medium security and from maximum security to medium security, NBP, BuCor since Dec. 1, 2016. All subsequent transfer of the high-profile inmates and/or inmates convicted of offenses related to illegal drugs within the NBP shall be signed and approved by the Secretary of Justice,” the order read.
“Tuloy ang paglipat. Actually yung iba doon, when I left, nilagay muna sila sa isang sasakyan, katulad nung nakaraan. Ngayon yung ilang inatasan ko na ilipat sa maximum o sa Building 14, napatunayan ko na hindi sinusunod ang DO ko o department order, sapagkat doon pa rin nakuha yung mga high-profile drug lords doon pa rin sa medium,” Aguirre told reporters in chance interview at the Department of Justice (DoJ).
Aguirre’s order covered inmates earlier transferred to the medium security compound, including Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co, who all testified against De Lima before the House of Representatives inquiry on proliferation of illegal drugs in the NBP.
The DOJ chief said he is inclined not to believe reports on the supposed threats of some inmates to retract their statements against De Lima.
“Ngayon hindi ko malaman kung totoo yan sapagkat alam naman natin ng sila’y nag-testify may kanya-kanya silang abogado. Wala nga kaming binigay na abogado d’yan sa mga yan. Nung sila ay mag testify voluntary yan, hindi sila tinakot, hindi sila binayaran, hindi sila pinangakuan ng kung ano man. Kaya’t parang hindi ako naniniwala na magkakaroon ng parang blackmailing yan,” he explained.
“Dun sa kabilang kampo. Sapagkat napatunayan natin ngayon na yung isang abogado na nagsasabi ng ganon ay hindi pala abogado ng kahit sino doon,” he alleged.
He is referring to Atty. Francis Acejas III, the lawyer who announced that some high profile inmates plans to recant their testimonies because of the Department Order.
“That (recantation) could be a possibility and that would be rather disastrous in a manner of speaking because if these witnesses will not cooperate then the privileges under the Witness Protection Program will be taken away from them. But what about the government’s effort to pin down some personalities?” Acejas said during the press conference on Wednesday morning.
But when contacted for clarification on Wednesday afternoon, Acejas said there is no plan to recant but only an appeal from his clients for Aguirre not to transfer them back to the maximum security compound.
“No. There is no such thing as recantation. Because right now we do not want to jeopardize our appeal for the DOJ Secretary to consider yung memorandum niya,” Acejas said.
“In the meantime, while the case is ongoing against former DOJ secretary kailangan ma-secure naman sila for their own safety and protection,” he added.
Aguirre questioned the veracity of Acejas’ claims.
“I was told that he is not the lawyer of the inmates and that he even issued a threat that they would retract their statements if the transfer pushes through. It appears that this is yet another working of the other camp against the administration,” he commented.
The DOJ chief added that he was informed that the inmates did not give any authorization to Acejas to speak for them.
Asked on the appeal of inmates on their safety, Aguirre answered: “Basta yan, matagal na sila doon bakit ngayon lang sila magsasabi na for their safety, ilang buwan na sila nandoon, ilang linggo lang sila dito. Palagay ko di totoo yan. Disinformation lamang yan ng kabilang grupo. Sa akin simple lang. Hindi ako maaaring ma-blackmail. I’m going to return you where you came from, sapagkat doon mahigpit ang ating pangangalaga, na hindi magiging kumalat ulit ang transaksyon ng iligal na droga. Whatever will be the consequence on me personally, itutuloy ko po yan, sapagkat malalaman ko na pagbalik sa kanila doon sa kanilang pinanggalingan, para hindi na sila makapaggawa ng mga illegal drug trade. Yun po ay sa kapakanan ng ating kapwa Pilipino.”
On Wednesday, Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, counsel of most of the witnesses in the drug cases against De Lima led by convicted drug lords led by Herbert Colangco and Noel Martinez who are currently held at the facility controlled by the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo, already denied the reported plan of recantation.
Topacio said he served as lawyer of Baligad and he also checked with the camp of Co, who assured him that they will stand firm on their earlier testimonies against De Lima.
The lawyer believes that information about the witnesses planning to recant their statements against De Lima could be part of a plot to weaken the cases against the senator.
Upon assuming the duties as top BuCor executive, Aguirre led another surprise inspection at NBP on Thursday morning that again led to confiscation of various contrabands.
The Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) has also replaced its contingency that has guarded the national penitentiary since last year.
BuCor is an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ). (Christopher Lloyd T. Caliwan with Vanessa Panesa/PNA)