The head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center has been relieved after a detainee briefly took former Senator Leila de Lima hostage in a foiled escape attempt Sunday, PNP chief Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said Monday.
At a press conference, Azurin said the relief of facility commander Lt. Colo. Patrick Ramillano was a standard operating procedure.
The PNP said three prisoners—alleged Abu Sayyaf Group members Arnel Cabintoy, Idang Susukan, and Feliciano Sulayao Jr.—stabbed Police Cpl. Roger Agustin who was serving their food.
Cabintoy and Susukan were shot dead by a police officer while Sulayao was able to run and take De Lima hostage.
In her sworn statement, De Lima said Sulayao told her about their complaints, including being fed pork, which Muslims are not allowed to eat.
Headquarters Support Service Director Police Col. Mark Pespes, who shot and killed Sulayao, denied the allegation. He was awarded a medal for heroism.
Azurin said De Lima has been transferred to PNP General Hospital for the meantime. The PNP is planning to transfer her to a different cell in the same facility.
Azurin also said changes would be made in the PNP Custodial Center personnel following Sunday’s hostage-taking incident.
Interviewed by GMA News, Azurin admitted there was a lapse, because the prisoners saw the police officer delivering food was alone and unarmed.
He also said they would study the setup at the Custodial Center to make detainees safer.
Senator Robinhood Padilla, a follower of Islam, said the PNP could play a big role in ending the discrimination against Muslims.
He said these include the tendency to tag criminals as Muslims and serving food with pork to Muslim prisoners.
Padilla expressed his dismay over videos on social media where police responding to the hostage-taking referred to the perpetrators as Muslims.
He reiterated his call to the PNP leadership to launch an education drive on the use of the word “Muslim.”
“While we are glad that Sen. de Lima is safe and we continue to pray for the recovery of the wounded policeman, I cannot but notice that some policemen referred to the hostage takers as Muslims,” Padilla said.
The senator said he wants to let everyone know that Muslim is not used to describe a person, especially when referring to a criminal or terrorist.
“These people have names, why not identify them through their names instead of their religion because religion has nothing to do with it,” he added.
Padilla expressed concern over De Lima’s reported statement indicating that some inmates were allegedly treated like animals and are still being served food with pork.
Meanwhile, a group of human rights lawyers said De Lima should be allowed to post bail after she became a victim of hostage taking at the detention facility.
“Senator De Lima should be released on bail immediately. She is not a flight risk and given the state of the evidence, there is every reason to grant her provisional liberty,” the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said, in a statement.
De Lima has been detained at the PNP’s Custodial Center since 2017 on non-bailable illegal drugs charges filed against her before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court.
The charges claimed that De Lima was involved in the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs trading at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City when she was the secretary of the Department of Justice.
She has denied these allegations, saying they were trumped up charges by the previous administration.
De Lima’s lawyer, Boni Tacardon, said they have not yet decided whether they will move for an extended home furlough for the former senator following Sunday’s incident.
Tacardon said he was not able to discuss the matter with De Lima because a hearing set for Monday was reset to Oct. 24—after Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos, who met with the ex-senator after the incident, announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
Tacardon said if De Lima would eventually agree to the proposal earlier disclosed by Senator Imee Marcos, then they are ready to file the necessary motion in court.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has yet to issue a statement on the matter.
De Lima was last granted a furlough in June, but only to allow her to undergo a “major” surgery from June 19 to 25.
De Lima on Sunday said she rejected an offer by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., coursed through Abalos, to be transferred to another facility.
Tacardon said de Lima will stay at the PNP General Hospital in Camp Crame for the next five days to undergo tests.
He said they have also recommended that she undergo psychological counseling due to what happened, an experience that De Lima considered as “near death experience.”
Authorities implemented tight security measures in and around the Muntinlupa court, with De Lima arriving with a phalanx of police security escorts.
De Lima did not answer reporters’ questions while going inside the courtroom, except to say “prayers” when asked how she is after the hostage-taking incident.
She immediately left the courtroom after the judge rescheduled the hearing.
However, outside the Muntinlupa justice hall building, supporters of De Lima gathered, many with placards bearing the words “Free Leila de Lima Now, Political Prisoner, “Mga Pekeng Kaso Ibasura,” Free Leila, Free All Political Prisoners, and “Stop Political Persecution.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the President to set De Lima free.
De Lima had earlier related her 30-minute harrowing ordeal to Hontiveros, who rushed to Camp Crame after the incident.
“(De Lima’s fate) is in the hands of the President as I called on him, as many have called on the administration since yesterday: Senator Leila should not even have been in that situation,” she said.
The lawmaker said in the first place, De Lima should not have been in jail the past half decade.
“So, with greater urgency, I call upon the President to do the moral and the legal thing and to set her free,” she said.
She noted that almost all the witnesses against her in the cases filed in the previous administration recanted their testimonies.
“So, the case against her is lost and it was not even ever alive from the start.”