GONE are the days when being sent to national penitentiary, the New Bilibid Prison – or “Bilibid” as it is more popularly referred to – was a dreaded punishment for criminals. The Bilibid we knew has been transformed into a posh resort for moneyed drug lords who have made the national penitentiary the epicenter for the country’s drug trade.
That these illegal activities flourish inside what is supposed to be the country’s most secure facility for convicted criminals is undeniable evidence of the pervasive corruption infecting our penal institutions. In fact, the joke doing the rounds of social media is that the drug lords prefer being in Bilibid because aside from the fact that they can no longer be arrested for their illicit drug operations, they even have topnotch 24-hour security paid for by Filipino taxpayers.
Bilibid’s privileged drug lords no longer seem to fear their jailers or the consequences of their insolent behavior. Nowhere has this become more apparent than in recent incident inside the national penitentiary when newly-appointed Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director general, retired AFP Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz 3rd, tried to transfer Jaybee Sebastian – a convicted kidnapper and the leader of the Commando Gang and one of the most influential drug lords in Bilibid – to Building 14.
Bilibid 14 used to be a death chamber for convicts scheduled to die by electric chair. The building was recently renovated and converted into a “high security complex” for “high-risk inmates.” With 29 detention cells each measuring 8 square meters and capable of holding 58 inmates, Building 14 is also purportedly equipped with CCTV cameras, signal jammers and its own set of jail guards.
According to news reports, there was a standoff between prison guards and the Commando gang of Sebastian from Monday night to Tuesday morning last week after the notorious drug lord refused to be transferred from his pimped-up “kubol” – which boasts of an entertainment room, kitchen, comfort room and an air-conditioned bedroom – to more spartan accommodations in Building 14.
Armed with high-powered guns and clad in a bulletproof vest, Sebastian reportedly “mobilized his forces against BuCor personnel” and was “ready to shoot it out with the SWAT.” The standoff ended when Cruz called into action some 50 to 100 members of the BuCor’s SWAT unit to pluck Sebastian out of his “kubol.” The BuCor chief also allegedly used signal jammers at the building occupied by Commando gang inmates to prevent Sebastian from seeking reinforcements or giving out orders to attack.
This brazen show of force by a convicted felon demonstrates the power and influence of drug lords over the country’s principal penal colony. They are clearly running the show inside the national penitentiary instead of our prison officials.
The near-shootout raises several questions which need to be answered by BuCor officials: How did Sebastian manage to get all of those high-powered weapons and bulletproof vest inside Bilibid? How did he manage to hide it in his “kubol” even after ex-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s highly-publicized inspections of Bilibid’s maximum security compound?
Has any BuCor employee been investigated, charged or removed for aiding and abetting Sebastian’s illegal possession of firearms and ammunition? Obviously, Sebastian could not have gotten these weapons without the help of corrupt jail personnel.
Moreover, what criminal charges have been filed against Sebastian for this audacious display of arrogance and contempt especially since convicts are still liable for crimes committed while confined in the national penitentiary?
But the bigger issue for many folks is why De Lima did not transfer Sebastian together with the other 19 high-profile convicts whom she removed from the maximum security compound and detained at the National Bureau of Investigation last December 2014? This seems to give credence to the rumor that Sebastian was spared by De Lima because the convicted felon is a friend of the former Justice secretary.
Anyway, in her “farewell speech” at the Department of Justice two weeks ago, De Lima boasted that they had allegedly neutralized the illegal drug trade at Bilibid.
Unknown to the former Justice secretary, law enforcement authorities intercepted just a day earlier, a shabu shipment worth P3.5 million, which arrived on a chartered plane from Manila at the Dumaguete-Sibulan Airport. The operatives reportedly arrested the drug dealer in a buy-bust operation before the shabu could be distributed to the market.
Upon interrogation, the arrested dealer pointed to Bilibid as the source of the drugs. Anti-illegal drug operatives say this confirms intelligence reports that drug personalities inside the national penitentiary are still controlling the distribution of illegal drugs throughout the country.
The way we see it from our side of the wall, it will take more than heavily-guarded jail cells and security cameras to put an end to the drug trade inside Bilibid. There should be a top-to-bottom overhaul of the national penitentiary’s personnel. That or have a combined team from anti-illegal drug agencies and BuCor jointly manage Bilibid’s Building 14.
But for now, we can only hope that BuCor director Cruz does not succumb to the “temptations” of the national penitentiary so easily.