DOJ chief grilled on Bilibid drug resurgence

House members took the hearing on the proposed P17.26 billion budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ) for next year as an opportunity to grill Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on various issues ranging, from the resurgence of the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison to the rising cases of drug-related killings in the country.

The questioning of Aguirre happened during the hearing of the committee on appropriations chaired by Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles (1st District, Davao City). The hearing was presided by committee vice chairman Rep. Doy Leachon (1st District, Oriental Mindoro).

Aguirre said their proposed budget for 2018 is 20 percent higher than this year's appropriation of P15.58 billion. It will fund the budgetary needs of 10 offices: DOJ Office of the Secretary; Bureau of Corrections (BuCor); Bureau of Immigration (BI); Land Registration Authority (LRA); National Bureau of Investigation (NBI); Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC); Office of the Solicitor General (OSG); Parole and Probation Administration (PPA); Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG); and Public Attorney's Office (PAO).

Rep. Edcel Lagman (1st District, Albay) asked Aguirre if he will support a congressional inquiry on the resurgence of the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) which the DOJ Secretary himself bared in media reports.

Several months back, you went to Congress and brought with you personally witnesses with affidavits on the drug trade in the NBP. Will you still do the same with respect to the resurgence of the drug trade in the penitentiary?, said Lagman.

Aguirre said he will support the inquiry if it is necessary. I will do it again. As a matter of fact, it pains me that after a year, there was a resurgence (of the drug trade). When there were many reports given to me (about this), I did not lose time because I want to nip this resurgence of the drug trade in the bud. I immediately issued Department Order No. 547 for the NBI to conduct an in-depth investigation on the resurgence of the drug trade at the NBP in Muntinlupa, said Aguirre.

Aguirre expressed the belief that there is a five percent resurgence compared to the 70 to 75 percent drug trading at the beginning of the Duterte administration. I do not want that this five percent resurgence to increase. I reported it immediately to the authorities, to the President, he said.

The NBI is not yet done with its investigation, according to Aguirre.

We welcome again your presence at the congressional inquiry, said Lagman.

Aguirre said the amendment of the BuCor law has rendered him helpless in going after the illegal trading of drugs because it removed the DOJ Secretary's powers effective May 24, 2013 to order the transfer of inmates from maximum to medium security and vice versa. The amendment also removed the DOJ Secretary's power to transfer city and provincial prosecutors throughout the country.

I do not know why this (amendment) was passed during the time of Secretary De Lima. This is the reason why I am helpless in going after the illegal trading of drugs as of this time, said Aguirre.

Meanwhile, Lagman requested Aguirre to submit a collated total of cases investigated by the DOJ and other prosecutorial agencies on summary killings related to drugs. How many have been terminated and how many are still pending?, he said.

Lagman also sought Aguirre's position on proposals for President Duterte to create an independent fact-finding commission to investigate the escalating summary executions to determine the causes, motives for the killings and the number of victims, and recommend the prosecution of culprits.

Aguirre said he believes that as of this time, it is not necessary that such an independent commission will be created. I believe the police agencies, Philippine National Police, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, and our NBI are coping with the investigation of these cases, he said.

Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy (Party-list Bagong Henerasyon) asked if the P33.2 million proposed budget for the implementation of Administrative Order 35 would be enough, given the many human rights issues being raised nowadays.

Will it be enough to realize the mandate of the committee tasked to implement AO 35, said Dy.

She said the proposed DOJ budget contains a new provision under Operations titled Implementation of Administrative Order 35 which is the creation of the inter-agency on extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons.

Aguirre said the provision is not new because AO 35 began in 2012 and the DOJ already had the budget for this in 2015.

Rep. Emmi de Jesus (Party-list, Gabriela) condemned the killing of student Kian Delos Santos and emphasized the case is not isolated.

De Jesus said there were 31 minors killed in different police operations. She called on Aguirre to act on the issue and facilitate effective delivery of the justice system.

The poor should have better access to lawyers, she said. She lamented that despite having a Public Attorney's Office, the less privileged prefer having private lawyers.

PAO chief Atty. Persida Acosta said because of Republic Act of 9406 also known as the PAO Law, state lawyers now have better wages. This has allowed the PAO to hire better lawyers who can provide better services to the poor, she said.

Source: House of Representatives

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