JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd on Thursday admitted that there has been no let up to the smuggling of prohibited items inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) despite the strict security measures being implemented at the national penitentiary.
In the hearing of the Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee on the proposed amendments to the Anti-Wiretapping Act, Aguirre told senators that prison officials recently confiscated contraband smuggled into the highly secured Building 14.
Building 14 was renovated during the time of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to house top drug inmates including Peter Co and Herbert Colangco.
Aguirre said almost all officers and guards of the NBP have been replaced by Special Action Force (SAF) troopers to further strengthen security.
From July 20 to 21, prison officials confiscated almost 200 cell phones, P1.6 million worth of illegal drugs, signal jammers and boosters and many other prohibited items.
Asked by Sen. Leila de Lima why contrabands are still found in Building 14 which is supposed to be a secured area, Aguirre said inmates are “very creative” in slipping in banned items.
“I don’t know how they were able to hide the signal boosters. We know for a fact that these are prohibited inside the Bilibid and we know for a fact that these cellphones are used by these high-profile inmates in order to transact illegal drugs throughout the Philippines,” he added.
This is the reason why wiretapping should be allowed in some cases, he pointed out.
De Lima agreed with Aguirre on the need to relax the Anti-wiretapping law insofar as convicts are concerned.
During the hearing, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the panel, asked Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa if the police had the capacity to wiretap electronic communication, and the latter said no.
Lacson got the same response from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
In an interview after the hearing, Lacson said he does not believe that the PNP and NBI have no capability to wiretap, but he understands why officials of the two agencies authorities could not admit being able to wiretap.
“These are sensitive issues. In the first place, we have not passed the anti-wiretapping act amendment, it is the only time when they can admit that they have the capability,” he explained.
Lacson pointed out that the “Hello Garci” scandal in 2004 wherein the telephone conversation between former President Gloria Arroyo and then Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano was recorded, is a clear indication that electronic transmissions can be intercepted.
De Lima said she believes that her cellphones have been tapped.
“What legitimate purpose is being served? If that is the case am I a suspected terrorist or because I’m accused of being a coddler? Is that why my cellphones are being tapped?” she asked PNP officials.
But de la Rosa told the senator that he thinks that his cellphone was also bugged.
“Your honor, I’m also suspecting that my cellphone is being tapped,” the PNP chief said, drawing laughter.
De Lima inquired if he has any idea who could be responsible in bugging their phones but de la Rosa maintained that the PNP is not behind it.
“There are foreigners who have the technology to do it and we don’t have control over them. They can monitor our conversation from a faraway place. That is our problem,” he said.