In line with President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs, criminality and corruption, the Department of Justice (DoJ) under Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, has beefed up its efforts to hack the deadwood and rot in the agency in a bid to respond to the Chief Executive's calls for massive change and reforms.
Aguirre said President Duterte has directed him to focus the DOJ's resources and efforts to fighting illegal drugs and corruption.
During the DOJ's 119th anniversary last September, Aguirre announced the conduct of random drug test for DOJ employees, including state prosecutors, saying they cannot prosecute drug-related cases if they are also tainted by the said menace.
Aguirre II also warned officials and employees of the department from engaging in illegal drugs trade or else face prosecution.
"For justice to work, we have to work. For the people to believe, we have to see to it that they can believe in prosecutors. We cannot prosecute if we ourselves are tainted by the very drugs we seek to eradicate,' Aguirre said.
The DOJ chief said erring employees of the department will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as he called on them to work with him in fulfilling the agency's mandate.
"Deal with drugs and you will find neither refuge nor respite from the law. Please stop it, please stop it and if despite this warning you continue your corrupt ways, the full resources of the DOJ will be thrown against you,' Aguirre said, adding that the present administration will "no longer tolerate criminals."
He stressed that the Justice Department played a huge role in the administration's war on illegal drugs, thus, prosecutors' actions should be credible.
"The DOJ will play a great part in the President's effort to have a crime-free Philippines but great powers come with great responsibility. We have to see to it that they believe in our prosecutors,' Aguirre said.
Wiping out illicit activities at the New Bilibid Prison
Under Aguirre's watch, tough efforts have also been made to wipe out nefarious activities inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
In July, more than 300 troops of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) replaced the jail guards of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) in a bid to curb the illegal drug trade at the in securing the NBP maximum security compound where high-profile inmates are detained.
The DOJ has also installed two South Korean-made signal jammers worth PHP2 million at the maximum security compound preventing inmates involved in illicit activities from communicating with their cohorts outside while more close circuit television cameras were also installed in the national penitentiary.
Aguirre said it is important to cut inmates' communication outside to stop illegal drug transactions.
Each jammer can cover 1,200 square meter area and both will be installed from both ends of Building 14.
Building 14 is a 1,200 square meter property within the NBP's Maximum Security Compound. Its gate however is not accessible via the heavily guarded main entrance and has no access to the Maximum Security compound. Its gate is along the main road of the NBP leading to the Reception and Diagnostic Center and near the BuCor Museum, formerly the lethal injection chamber.
The building currently houses 53 high profile inmates including Herbert "Ampang" Colangco, Jaybee Sebastian and Peter Co who allegedly still manages to continue drug operations despite incarceration.
But Aguirre said they still need to procure "more and bigger signal jammers' to cover the entire NBP.
He said that without cellular phones, the illegal drugs trade in the NBP would be eradicated since mobile phones are the main communication devices used by convicted drug lords in going through their illegal activity.
Upon Aguirre's recommendation, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the appointment papers of retired police Chief Superintendent Benjamin De los Santos as BuCor director last November 18.
"Director De Los Santos is a person of competence and integrity. He gets things done! I believe he can implement our President's Reform Agenda in the BuCor . A most welcome addition to the DOJ Family," Aguirre said.
"Our mandate from the President is to stop drugs, corruption and criminality; that is also the mandate of Director De Los Santos at the BuCor. As we are relentless, he will also be relentless," Aguirre added.
Running after alleged drug trade coddlers
In September, the DoJ actively participated and will fully cooperate in the investigation conducted by the Committee on Justice, House of Representatives on the proliferation of illegal drugs and other prohibited items in the NBP.
During the investigation former officials from Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), former DoJ employees and high-profile inmates testified before the house probe linking Senator Leila De Lima's role in the illegal drugs trade at the NBP that she was a protector or a coddler.
Aguirre pointed out that high profile inmate Jayvee Sebastian has already been tagged by fellow inmates as alleged facilitator illegal drug trade in NBP to raise funds for the candidacy of Sen. De Lima in the polls last May.
Based on the affidavits on the witnesses who testified during the house probe on De Lima's alleged links to the illegal drug trade in NBP, four drug trafficking complaints filed against De Lima, former government officials and high profile inmates for allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade inside the NBP.
Last Dec. 21, the DOJ five-man panel headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter L. Ong decided to end the preliminary investigation on the four drug complaints against the lady senator filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC); former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy directors Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala; high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian; and the NBI.
Ong said that it is set to submit for resolution the drug trafficking complaints.
De Lima did not show up at the two preliminary investigation scheduled on Dec. 2 and 21 and did not submit her counter affidavits in response to the complaints including violations of Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act), qualified bribery under the Revised Penal Code, R.A. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), Presidential Decree 46 (Act Punishing the Receiving and Giving of Gifts of Public Officials and Employees) and R.A. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).
Aside from De Lima, the other respondents are former DOJ Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III; former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director Franklin Jesus Bucayu; former BuCor director Ricardo Reineir Cruz; De Lima's former aide Joenel Sanchez; De Lima's former driver Ronnie Dayan, De Lima's nephew Jose Adrian Dera; NBI Deputy Director Rafael Ragos; former New Bilibid Prison (NBP) Superintendent Richard Schwarzcopf Jr.; NBI agent Jovencio Ablen Jr.; Bucayu's alleged bagman Wilfredo Elli; Baraan's former subordinate Jesusa Francisco; de Lima's secretary Lyn Sagum; Baraan's alleged bagman Julius Rejuso; and De Lima's alleged bagman only known as alias "Georg".
Others named in the complaints are convicted criminals and NBP inmates Sebastian, Herbert Colanggo, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy, Wu Tuan Yuan alias Peter Co, and Jojo Baligad.
The DOJ also filed an obstruction of justice complaint against former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila De Lima for ignoring the summons issued by Congress and for instructing her former driver and lover Ronnie Dayan to snub the probe on the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.
The agency filed a case against the lady senator for violation of Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) for disobedience to summons issued by the national assembly, its committee or subcommittees before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC).
In the resolution written by Assistant State Prosecutor Vilma D. Lopez-Sarmiento and approved by Officer-In-Charge Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr., there is probable cause to charge De Lima for violation of Article 150 of the RPC.
De Lima and Dayan had both admitted that they were previously in a relationship. De Lima said it lasted for several years, while Dayan said they were together for seven years.
The complainants include House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas and House Committee on Justice Chairman Reynaldo Umali.
Aside from the criminal charges filed against De Lima an ethics complaint was also filed against her before the Senate.
The VACC along with former ranking officials of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and a whistleblower also filed disbarment complaint before the Office of the Bar Confidant of the Supreme Court (SC) against the lady senator.
Zero tolerance for corruption
In line with President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-corruption campaign, Justice Secretary Aguirre II vowed to implement a zero tolerance policy for corrupt employees of the DOJ and its attached agencies.
Aguirre made the announcement following the call of some employees for his removal as Justice Secretary over his efforts to wipe out corruption in the agency.
He said just like President Duterte who has vowed a zero tolerance approach to corruption, he would also do the same at the DOJ and its attached agencies, namely Bureau of Corrections, Bureau of Immigrations, National Bureau of Investigations, Parole and Probation Administration, Presidential Commission on Good Government, Public Attorney's Office, Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution, Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, Office of the Solicitor General and the Land Registration Authority.
Aguirre said he will prioritize President Duterte's marching orders given to him upon assumption of office such as weeding out corruption and other illegal activities and prioritizing the resolution of drug-related charges and heinous crimes.
"It has come to our attention that there are some disgruntled DOJ employees who want to derail President Duterte's war on Corruption. The same misguided and tarnished employees are not in full accord with some of the actions undertaken by my office lately," Aguirre said.
According to Aguirre, some employees also paint his actions with colors of personal persecution as they claim that they are being targeted whimsically and capriciously.
"There is no truth to that. We will adopt a business like approach in pursuing the corrupt. We will prosecute. We will never persecute. Nothing more, nothing less," he said.
The DOJ Chief said those employees plotting his ouster are the "misguided few" allegedly involved in corrupt activities to the detriment of the majority who are just doing their job and fulfilling their mandate.
"There are reports that the same disgruntled DOJ employees are plotting my ouster from the DOJ. To the plotters, let me say this to you. I did not ask to be appointed to the DOJ. I did not seek this appointment. I will not even lose a single night's sleep if this post is taken away from me. I might even be thankful if I am removed," Aguirre noted.
"For as long as I have President Duterte's full confidence, trust and unwavering support in pursuing his mandate, I will fully exercise the powers and the prerogatives of my office in achieving the thrusts of the Duterte administration and in serving the Filipino people in the best way that I can," he added.
A big 'No' to illegal online casinos
Early this month, four high ranking officials were sacked form their post in Bureau of Immigration in connection with their involvement in extorting money from online gaming operator Chinese gaming tycoon Yon Lok Lam alias 'Jack Lam'.
Aguirre ordered the dismissal of acting BI intelligence division chief Charles Calima and technical assistant for intelligence Edward Chan.
Also fired from their post are BI associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who were accused of extorting PHP50 million from Lam for the release of Chinese nationals arrested last month while working on the latter's online gambling casino at the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga.
The two former BI officials, who resigned and were eventually fired by President Duterte last week, admitted accepting the money but insisted that they were only investigating the corruption in the BI and that Calima took PHP18 million of the amount while PHP2 million was also taken by retired police general Wally Sombero who was acting as Lam's middlemen.
Argosino and Robles denied the allegations, saying that the money was accepted to be used as evidence in their investigation on corruption in the agency involving the Chinese businessman.
Aguirre described the BI as the second most corrupt organization in the government after the BuCor.
Despite the incident, Aguirre said he is confident positive things will come out, especially in the campaign of the administration against corruption.
For those who have knowledge on employees who were corrupt, Aguirre advised "I call upon everyone who personally know the corrupt acts of some DOJ personnel to join us in our efforts to better the DOJ. My office is always open to you. Come to us. Tell us. Work with us. I once asked you to walk with, that offer remains. Heed the clarion call."
Source: Philippines News Agency