PALACE executives and then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima preempted a police operation to enable a favored drug lord to raise enough money to bankroll De Lima’s senatorial bid, witnesses told a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The deputy chief for operations of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Dir. Benjamin Magalong, said Oplan Cronus, put together by the CIDG and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, was supposed to isolate drug lords operating in the New Bilibid Prison.
The original plan was squashed, with De Lima, Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayo; Chief Supt. Reginald Villasanta, then executive director of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission; and Chief Supt. Marcelo Garbo Jr. of the National Capital Region Police Office taking over the National Bilibid Prison raid on Dec. 15, 2014,” Magalong told House committee on justice chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali.
Villasanta was chief of PAOCC under the office of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. during the previous administration.
Magalong and PDEA were excluded from the NBP raid that netted the isolation of high value inmates known as Bilibid 19, most of whom were big time drug lords, including foreign nationals who ran drug syndicates inside and outside of NBP.
But Magalong said some drug lords were left behind.
We felt bad because it was our mandate to conduct the raid and then we were dropped at the last minute. Didn’t they trust us? Oplan Cronus was supposed to isolate high-value inmates to get rid of the worsening drug trade in the NBP but others were left out,” Magalong said.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and other inmates said the raid was meant to ease out the competition to allow drug lord Jaybee Sebastian to lord it over the multibillion drug trade in the NBP.
Only drug-sniffing dogs or canines of the PDEA were tapped to participate in the raid,” said PDEA lawyer Roselyn Borja. “We were requested to let our canines join the operations in the early morning of the raid.”
The NBP raid was held around 4 a.m. of Dec. 15, 2014, according to another drug lord, Herbert Colangco, who was among the Bilibid 19 that was taken away from the maximum security prison and brought to the National Bureau of Investigation prison.
We felt bad because we had several top level meetings and I even volunteered to then Secretary De Lima to be the ground commander and all she could tell me was, ‘You just wait, Benjie’,” Magalong recounted.
Magalong said it was Bucayo who told him the CIDG and PDEA were no longer part of the operation.
Aguirre said Magalong’s revelation had strengthened the criminal and civil charges to be filed against De Lima.
Aguirre also said they have a paper trail of drug money that amounted to billions in an account that would be confirmed by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
We are glad about General Magalong’s revelation. That would double the strength of our case to be filed against Senator De Lima because now we know why the CIDG and PDEA were kept out of the loop during the raid,” Aguirre said. “This could help in making our case against Senator De Lima and other public officials an airtight case.”
Magalong said Villasanta, Garbo and Bucayo were classmates at the Philippine Military Academy.
They were not part of the original group that planned Oplan Cronus. But it turned out they dropped us at the last minute,” Magalong said.
De Lima, Colangco said, was part of the raid and in fact, he made a last minute appeal to her when they were already at the NBI.
Colangco said he felt betrayed since he was giving De Lima P3 million a month in monthly “PR payola” out of the proceeds of the drug trade and P1 million every time there was a concert or event at the NBP.
The lawmakers, led by Umali took turns in asking Magalong as they did not understand why the CIDG and PDEA were dropped at the last minute.
But Aguirre said the NBI raid was all for show.
The real intention was for the favored drug lord Jaybee Sebastian [to control] the multibillion drug trade in the NBP. Sebastian indeed made a killing because he had a heyday for eight months from Dec.15, 2014 when his competitors were herded away and were isolated,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre asked Magalong and PDEA to execute an affidavit on what transpired during the preparation of Oplan Cronus.
Magalong said he would be willing to execute an affidavit. Borja said the PDEA would do the same.
The testimony of Colangco and convicted for kidnapping former Chief Inspector Rodolfo Magleo that De Lima was collecting drug money was corroborated by five more high-value inmates in Wednesday’s hearing.
Magleo on Tuesday said De Lima was paid P10 million by Sebastian to effect the transfer of Bilibid 19, Sebastian’s drug syndicate competitors, to allow Sebastian to monopolize the drug trade inside the maximum security prison.
While De Lima personally assured Colangco that his transfer to the NBI was “temporary,” Colangco said his stay lasted eight months, allowing Sebastian to control the drug trade for that long.
Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo on Wednesday raised doubts about De Lima’s motive for interfering in the planned raid on the NBP.
I think she should explain that,” Panelo said. “Why did she stop the raid? There is something fishy, something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” he said.
Magalong said that he was surprised and admittedly, dismayed, when on Dec. 15, 2014, he found out that the top-secret Bilibid raid was conducted without their presence.
Among those who conducted the raid, where De Lima was seen wearing cowboy outfit, were Marcelino Garbo, among the generals that President Duterte tagged as a “narco-general.”
Panelo said Magalon was “a very credible witness.”
He has no axe to grind against her [De Lima] and he has no political interest,” he said.
Umali on Wednesday said allowing Aguirre to question witnesses during the hearing was not a violation of House rules.
Secretary Aguirre is not the lawyer of the witness. He is the Secretary of Justice who conducted this investigation,” he said.
Umali also said Aguirre’s questioning was not unprecedented since it happened before in a Senate hearing wherein then Justice Secretary Leila De Lima grilled Benhur Luy, principal whistleblower in the pork barrel scam.
He added that this is how congressional inquiries should be conducted.
The Oriental Mindoro representative further noted that the first day of the proceedings was “well-managed and very orderly.”
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