Bilibid and the military | Inquirer Opinion
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Bilibid and the military

Two events occurred this week which, taken together, are as unrelated as you can get, but I hope to connect the two before we reach the end of this column. One is the raid on the national penitentiary (New Bilibid Prison) by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, which yielded such treasures as a sauna, a Jacuzzi, cell phones galore, a convicted drug lord holding office with another inmate serving as his secretary, shabu, a music center, guns and around P2 million in cash.

Nineteen inmates (the great majority of whom had one-syllable last names of Chinese origin, or am I being politically incorrect for mentioning this?) were transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation detention center, obviously because the good Secretary could no longer trust the NBP authorities and personnel any further than she could spit. They had apparently been pulling the wool over her eyes with regular reports about the raids they conducted and the goods they confiscated.

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What is noteworthy is that the Monday-morning raid by the Secretary had been leaked. (What is our proof? Apparently, the wives of the drug lords were texting several NBP officials on Sunday night, asking if their husbands were going to be transferred. Such chumminess, don’t you agree?) Can you imagine the magnitude of what would have been confiscated had there been no leak? There is also the matter of jail guards trying to mislead the raiding party, sending them to other “kubol,” probably trying to give favored prisoners more time to get rid of what they wanted to get rid of.

What inspired the raid, I surmise, was an investigative report by ABS-CBN titled “Inside Bilibid,” which came one month before the raid took place. I use the word “surmise” because Bureau of Corrections Director Franklin Bucayu stated in an interview that the De Lima raid was in the planning stages for about two or three months, which means the ABS-CBN report had nothing to do with it. If it takes two or three months to plan a jail raid (with the NBI, the police, and whoever else), I can only say that we must have the most incompetent officials. No wonder leaks occur.

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Anyway, “Inside Bilibid,” run Nov. 17, was already an eyebrow-raiser, detailing the problems, such as the 10 rival gangs inside the maximum-security complex (there are also the medium- and the minimum-security complexes, the different categories dependent on the number of years one has to serve). These 10 rival gangs are armed to the teeth (including explosives). They also apparently control the substances (drugs), the sex, and everything else inside the penitentiary.

Is every last one of the guards and the officials crooked? Not according to the report. But those who are not end up dead, like PG1 Gerard Donato, who was killed by a hit man last Oct. 21. The whole thing was caught on CCTV camera, which is why his killer was caught immediately. Apparently, the killer’s cell phone had a whole list of other guards and antidrug crusaders whom he was yet to kill. Mr. Donato, three days before his death, turned over to the NBI a report citing the accomplishments of his team (seizing armaments and drugs). He also told an NBI official of the death threats he and others had received.

The other event that occurred this week was the 79th founding anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The AFP, especially in the latter 42 years of its life, has led what can only be called a checkered life. The first decade of the new millennium, give or take a few years, has seen it rocked by corruption and scandals, such as the cover-up of the murder of Navy Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño (involving log smuggling and drug smuggling), other corruption cases involving Adm. Willy Wong and Gen. Carlos Garcia, then the unresolved disappearances under Gen. Jovito Palparan, money missing, coup attempts, and the mysterious escape of surrounded hostile Abu Sayyaf forces in Lamitan, involving Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez.

But in the last five years, it has pulled itself together. It has set up for itself the task of being a “world-class” army, navy and air force by 2028, and being a source of national pride.

I don’t know about the “world-class” part, especially since the term has been used with such impunity by Mayor JunJun Binay of Makati. But I am willing to argue that the AFP has come a long way in the last five years, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of the likes of former chief of staff Gen. Manny Bautista (“Manny Sundalo”) and like-minded military men. They have shown themselves to be protectors of the people, and while they are slowly being “modernized” by this administration, have acted on the people’s behalf, especially during Typhoon “Ruby,” when they mobilized themselves and deployed 18 aircraft, six navy vessels and 173 trucks, plus 23,000 personnel (3,000 directly), to be at the service of the 189,000 families displaced and the 3,003 evacuation centers that they guarded.

They are already a source of national pride.

How are the AFP and the NBP connected?

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Bilibid is, at best, at a standstill, where the guards are in cahoots with or scared of the prisoners, and the prison officials and the Bureau of Corrections are probably likewise. I suggest that the only way to resolve the impasse is for the military to take over for now. Much like the worst part of elections in Mindanao, when the Marines were brought in and kept order. Nobody crossed a Marine, not even an Ampatuan.

There are dangers, of course. The military can succumb, too. But does anyone have a better idea?

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TAGS: Armed Forces of the Philippines, Bilibid raid, Leila de Lima, National Bilibid Prison
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