THE death penalty should be restored to prevent prison inmates from turning into drug dealers, a lawmaker said on Sunday.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali, chairman of the House Committee on Justice that probed the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, made the call a day ahead of the release of the committee report on the investigation.
“The revelation in this committee hearings made it more imperative for us to re-impose death penalty. Look … these criminals who are facing life sentence … what would they be afraid of except for death? They won’t fear anything except death,” Umali said in a radio interview.
About a dozen inmates testified during the House justice panel hearing, accusing former Justice secretary Leila de Lima, now a senator, of allowing the drug trade and other illegal activities such as prostitution and gambling in the Bilibid in exchange for payoffs.
De Lima, who was Justice secretary from 2010 to 2015, denies the claims and has accused the government of pressuring the inmates to testify against her.
Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detention Group, also testified that inmate Peter Co has been on top of the drug trade in Bilibid since 2002.
Umali said the prison system had not reformed inmates. “You have to raise the level of the fear factor among these convicted felons so they won’t find themselves enjoying in Bilibid with the drug trade. They are not being reformed anymore,” Umali said.
Capital punishment was abolished in 1987 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino but was re-imposed in 1993 under President Fidel Ramos. Crimes that were punishable by death included rape, kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo scrapped the death penalty anew on June 24, 2006 after approving Republic Act 9346.
Umali said the House Justice panel was also likely to recommend amendments to the Anti-Wiretapping Law and the relaxation of the Bank Secrecy Law to allow authorities to monitor drug-related activities of convicts and the flow of drug money.
Umali also proposed putting all the jails in the country under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) of the Department of Justice (DOJ), for centralized supervision and control.
The Bilibid is under BuCor, while the city and provincial jails are under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology under the ambit of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“We have to standardize our prison facilities and manpower,” Umali added.
De Lima to be summoned
The DOJ is set to summon de Lima, after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd formed a panel of prosecutors tasked to investigate the lawmaker over her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.
Subpoenas are expected to be issued by the panel of prosecutors against de Lima and the other accused in separate complaints filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and two former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy directors, Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala.
Aside from de Lima, other respondents to the case include her former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, former DOJ undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd, former NBI deputy director Rafael Ragos, Presidential Security Group member Joenel Sanchez, Jose Adrian Dera, Wilfredo Ely and high-profile convict Jaybee Sebastian.
De Lima and the other respondents are accused of violating of Section 5 (sale and trading of illegal drugs) in relation to Section 26 (b) (conspiracy) of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Aguirre said the two complaints would be consolidated by the panel of prosecutors.
The DOJ chief insists he is not abusing his powers to pin down de Lima, a leading critic of the President’s war on illegal drugs.
“Hindi naman bago ang mga ito. Bumabalik lang lahat sa kanya [These are not new. It’s just that the tide is turning on her),” Aguirre stressed.
De Lima, he said, was experiencing “karma” as she did the same to several politicians, including former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when she was DOJ chief.
De Lima knows the DOJ has the power to conduct a preliminary investigation against her and forward its findings to the Office of the Ombudsman, Aguirre said.
“In 2014, she said that selective justice was not a valid defense and that the DOJ has concurrent power with the Ombudsman. Now that it’s happening to her, why is she questioning the DOJ’s concurrent power?” Aguirre said.
Aguirre urged de Lima to respect the legal processes and come up with evidence to dispute the charges, instead of running to the media and accepting speaking engagements.
“All she’s been saying are general denials and even personal attacks. That’s not the way you defend yourself. You should be proving you’re not protector of drug lords, that you did this and that during your term to cleanse Bilibid,” he added.
The panel will be lead by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong. Named as members of the panel were Senior Assistant City Prosecutors Alexander Ramos, Leila Llanes, Evangeline Viudez-Canobas and Assistant State Prosecutor Editha Fernandez.