A HIGH-PROFILE convict was killed while three others—including controversial inmate Jaybee Sebastian—were hurt in a riot inside Building 14 at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison on Wednesday.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II confirmed the death of inmate Tony Co in the fracas that started at 7:45 a.m. Sebastian, along with inmates Peter Co and Vicente Sy were hurt in the incident and were taken to Muntinlupa Medical Center for treatment.
Former policeman Clarence Dongail, also an inmate at Building 14, was also wounded but chose to be treated at the penitentiary.
However, Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo said Sebastian, Peter Co and Dongail gave conflicting accounts of what happened.
“Inmates Peter Co, Jaybee Sebastian, and Clarence Dongail gave different statements, but the testimonies of Co and Sebastian seem to match,” Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo said.
According to Dongail, he accosted Vicente Sy, Peter Co, and Tony Co after another prisoner reported seeing them in a pot session. Feeling bad, Tony Co supposedly followed him to the mess hall and attacked him.
But convicted drug lord Peter Co claimed Dongail invited him to talk so he brought Sy as a witness, but they were immediately attacked by the former policeman and another inmate when they entered Dongail’s cell.
Sebastian, on the other hand, claimed he was attacked by an inmate he identified as Tomas Dolina while he was watching television at the mess hall.
Sebastian was in stable condition, Aguirre said, but his lawyer disputed the findings of the investigators and claimed the incident was an attempt on Sebastian’s life.
“What I feared before is now happening.” Sebastian was quoted as saying by his lawyer Edgar Arriba.
Arriba said Sebastian claimed there was no altercation prior to the prompted Wednesday’s attack, leading Sebastian to conclude that it may be related to the ongoing House investigation on the drug trade inside NBP, Arriba also said.
“If he speaks now, he will only expose himself to more danger so he has decided to speak only with President Rodrigo Duterte,” Arriba said.
Arriba said Sebastian was now ready to reveal what he knows about the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison but only to President Rodrigo Duterte.
“He knows so much about the drug trade inside and outside NBP,” said Arriba. “He doesn’t want to talk simply because he knows that he will only endanger his own life.”
“I will only speak with the President,” Arriba quoted Sebastian as saying.
Aguirre said 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.
A contingent from the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police has been deployed since July to secure the maximum security compound as part of the overall effort to stamp out the illegal drugs trade at the NBP.
“That’s what we’re saying, that 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,” Aguirre said.
He said he has also ordered a further tightening of security measures inside the NBP.
Aguirre assured the public that there would be no whitewash.
“It will not be good for the government if Jaybee is killed because he could spill the beans on De Lima,” Aguirre said.
On Tuesday, authorities installed two South Korean-made signal jammers at the maximum security compound, to stop inmates from using cellphones.
The four inmates were among the 19 high-profile detainees transferred to the temporary custody of the National Bureau of Investigation after a raid spearheaded by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in December 2014 to stamp out illegal activities inside the national penitentiary.
They were later brought back to the Bilibid and detained at Building 14 along with 50 other high-risk inmates.
Sebastian and Peter Co were recently implicated in the intensified anti-drug campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Sebastian, whom De Lima said was a government informant, along with Peter Co, were among those that the President said continued to operate their drug businesses from behind bars.
The President also tagged Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. as the source of illegal drugs of his son, Kerwin Espinosa Jr., even while he was inside the NBP.
De Lima said the killing of Tony Co and the riot could be a new level of the administration’s “murderous policy.”
Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon sought a deeper investigation into the riot.
At a news conference, De Lima said the riot was the Palace’s way of sending a message to the prisoners who refuse to implicate her in the drug trade as part of Aguirre’s TV drama to portray her as the “Bilibid Drug Queen.”
“I am not discounting the fact that this is another way of the government ‘persuading’ the Bilibid 19 to testify against me, and that this incident should serve as a lesson to those who refuse to cooperate with the government and do Aguirre’s and Malacañang’s bidding,” said De Lima.
Sebastian, who was alleged to have collected drug money for De Lima, has repeatedly refused to testify in the ongoing House probe on the alleged drug links of the former Justice secretary to illegal drugs.
Citing an “A1” source, De Lima said she got the information that Sebastian was being pressured to testify against her.
“We are worse than a narco state. We are now an assassin state espousing summary killings and murder as a state policy against its perceived enemies,” she said.
These prisoners, she added, are supposed to be under the government’s protection.
“To threaten them with violence and murder simply because they refuse to be used in the ongoing House hearing is the height of Mafia tactics and gangster-style operations that makes this government worse than a narco state,” said De Lima.
Lacson said Bilibid and Justice officials must immediately conduct an in-depth investigation not only on the motive of the stabbing incident but on the presence of drugs and weapons inside the cells of those involved.
“While we understand that cleaning up the facility cannot be accomplished overnight, it cannot also be denied that no less than Aguirre had bragged about the drastic reforms inside the Bilibid during the recent congressional hearings,” Lacson said.
Gordon said he was baffled why there were shabu and knives inside the penitentiary, which was being guarded by the SAF.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday lamented the riot, and said it could have something to do with the ongoing House investigation into the proliferation of drugs in the NBP during De Lima’s term as Justice secretary.
“Well that is sad because apparently there are forces to prevent Jaybee Sebastian from testifying. We should look at the motive of those who want to conceal the truth,” Alvarez said.
Reps. Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Karlo Alexei Nograles of Davao City also said the riot seemed to be aimed at silencing potential witnesses.
Nograles, a staunch Duterte ally, also said the incident must be immediately investigated.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque added: “There are forces that would want to prevent Jaybee Sebastian from testifying in Congress. If you will ask me who I think is behind, well, I cannot tell you because that is speculative. I will ask, however, law enforcement agencies like the NBI and the PNP to look into the possibility of whether Leila de Lima is involved in the affairs in Muntinlupa,” Roque said.
House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said De Lima was now reaping what she sowed when she persecuted former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“My message to Leila is, this is karma. Look at what happened to Mrs. Arroyo. She was not guilty but she was detained for years,” Suarez, a known Arroyo ally, said in Filipino.
De Lima and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV filed a resolution calling for a Senate investigation into the riot, citing the “apparent mismanagement and incompetence” of the Bureau of Corrections and the Philippine National Police.
“[This] can only be the result of serious, if not criminal, negligence on the part of BuCor and PNP,” according to the resolution.
The senators noted that the riot happened despite the presence of SAF commandos and the overhaul of the NBP management.
Aguirre, who flew with President Duterte to Vietnam in the afternoon, vowed to look deeper into the incident, especially after Sebastian’s lawyer claimed that the attack on him was unprovoked.
“This is not good for the government. We want Jaybee Sebastian to live because we’re relying on him to spill the beans on Senator De Lima. So we don’t want him to die, we want him to live, of course,” Aguirre said. “De Lima will certainly benefit if Jaybee is killed.”
The Justice secretary denied that the administration was coercing Sebastian and other inmates to testify against De Lima.