We should reflect long and hard on the events that happened last Wednesday at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, for they capture in a nutshell the country we appear to have become, and the utter ineffectiveness
of government to set things right at the country‘s principal penitentiary.
We thought that the grotesque transformation of New Bilibid into a haven of the illegal drug trade would finally stop because: 1) The House of Representatives has made drug dealings there the subject of a formal inquiry, and brought to the witness box no less than a handful of high-profile drug dealers who happened to be convicts; 2) The Philippine National Police (PNP) has assigned its crack Special Action Force (SAF) to provide security at the prison; and 3) A complete overhaul of the discredited management of the penitentiary has been implemented by the Duterte administration
But for all these changes, in a bizarre turn of events, the penitentiary was wracked by a brawl between rival gangs that killed one drug-lord convict, and injured four other drug convicts.
Why the penitentiary exploded in violence, and why convicts who have testified or are scheduled to testify at the House inquiry were involved in the fracas must be the subject of a thorough investigation.
The nation must find answers to the following questions: 1) Did the riot have something to do with the testimony of drug convicts in the House inquiry? 2) Why did the high-profile convicts have access to drugs and weapons that instigated and were used in the riot? 3) Did the justice department’s persuasion of the drug convicts to testify, under guarantees of immunity, influence the course of events? 4) Why did the newly introduced management and security reforms fail in establishing order in the prison?
Those involved in the incident and survived have given conflicting accounts of what happened.
Some said that the fracas erupted because one prisoner tipped off the authorities that the others were holding a shabu pot session.
Others averred that the incident was an attack on Jaybee Sebastian, who is scheduled to testify at the House and relate the giving of payoffs from the drug convicts to Sen. Leila de Lima, while she was still secretary of justice.
The story is sordid, violent and tangled; it presents a picture of our country and our people that cannot but make every Filipino feel ashamed.
How can this thing happen when our country is in the middle of a highly controversial and deadly war on drugs and crime?
How can the drug cartel take over the penitentiary and make it an appendage of the drug trade?
And how far does the corruption and abuse go in our criminal justice system?
Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre says he has ordered a thorough investigation of the riot, and how the inmates still managed to get their hands on shabu despite the tight security imposed by the authorities.
He declared: “we have stopped 90 percent of the illegal drugs, but either they kept some of it hidden or there’s still some coming in, but the fact is, they were taking shabu this morning.”
The words are cold comfort to a shocked nation that worries about allegations that the Philippines has become “the Mexico of Asia.”
We can talk all we want that cleaning up the New Bilibid Prison cannot be accomplished overnight. The incontrovertible fact is that the supposed drastic reforms inside Bilibid have not worked. There is still much work to do.