By Raynan F. Javil

Witnesses: Drug money behind de Lima’s senatorial campaign

Posted on September 22, 2016

WITNESSES ON the second day of the House probe on the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) claimed that the drug money they collected at the national penitentiary was used by former justice secretary and now Senator Leila M. de Lima to fund her election campaign.

For his part, Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, who presented the witnesses as he did on Tuesday’s marathon hearing by the House committee on justice, said he did not rehearse the witnesses and if he did, he “would have told them to say the truth.”

As for the procedure of Tuesday’s hearing, the witnesses were asked to read their sworn affidavits as part of efforts to speed up the inquiry, after which lawmakers were allowed to interpellate them. The witnesses that day were also granted immunity.

First to testify was Noel Martinez, who is in detention for kidnapping charges, with his appeal pending before the Supreme Court.

Mr. Martinez, the “commander” of the so-called Genuine Ilocano Gang, said Jaybee Sebastian, tagged as the “king of drug lords” at the national penitentiary, sought his help to fund Ms. de Lima’s senatorial campaign.

Kinausap ako ni Jaybee Sebastian para makalikom ng pondo para sa kandidatura ni Secretary Leila de Lima. Dapat mag benta kaming mga leader ng pangkat para malaki yung malikom (Jaybee Sebastian talked to me about raising funds for the candidacy of Secretary Leila de Lima. The leaders should sell drugs so that we can raise a huge sum),” Mr. Martinez said.

He also pointed out that Mr. Sebastian’s “words are the law, even employees follow his orders.”

Asked how much was money he was able to remit to Sebastian, Mr. Martinez said: “Malaki-laki po, nasa kulang kulang 200 kilos simula nung nag remit ako kay Jaybee... mula noong 2013, 2014. Month of October 2014, doon lang natigil. Medyo malamig na yung samahan namin ni Jaybee (It’s quite huge, I sold more or less 200 kilos since I started remitting to Jaybee... from 2013 to 2014. It stopped on the month of October 2014. Jaybee and I were no longer in good terms).”

For his part, convicted robber Jaime Patcho -- the commander of the “Batman” group at the NBP -- claimed that Sebastian also talked to him and offered him “hanap-buhay” (livelihood).

Patcho said he was at first hesitant to accept the offer but was pressured to do so after he was subjected to an almost daily “search.”

“He talked to me and told me to help him so that I won’t be disturbed again and there he directly told me I should help him with funding Ms. de Lima’s candidacy. He told me not to worry because the administration is on his side,” Patcho said in Filipino.

Patcho claimed Sebastian asked him to sell 10 kilos of shabu. He said he could only sell five kilos as he was not influential.

He also claimed he saw Ms. de Lima inside the maximum security compound of the NBP at least twice, adding that she visited only Sebastian at his “kubol” or shelter.

’Yung boses ni Jaybee, parang batas dahil sa nakikita namin na napakalakas niya. Si Secretary Leila de Lima kasi nakikita ko po ’pag pumasok sa maximum security compound, dun pumupunta kay Jaybee (Jaybee’s word is like a law, because we could see that he’s really influential. Every time we see Secretary Leila de Lima at the maximum facility compound, she would visit Jaybee),” he said.

Convicted killer Jojo R. Baligad, taking his turn, said the loose security at Bilibid allowed him to sell drugs at the maximum facility compound, but in exchange, he had to pay former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Officer-in-Charge Rafael Z. Ragos P100,000 a week.

He also claimed that in January 2013, he paid Mr. Ragos P200,000 through convicted robber Herbert Colanggo, who was also among the witnesses at the House probe.

When Mr. Ragos was removed from his post in May that year, recalled Baligad, other drug dealers were called by a Colonel Elie, who claimed to be from the staff of the new BuCor director, Franklin Bucayu, and they were asked to pay P50,000 a week.

Baligad also claimed that in mid-2014, Colanggo asked him to pay a total of P1.5 million in three tranches, allegedly Ms. de Lima’s piece of the action.

Baligad said that from January 2013 to September 2014, he remitted a total of P3.8 million.

Froilan L. Trestiza, detained for kidnapping and a member of the Batang City Jail, alleged that a certain Danilo Rico Martinez, who introduced himself as a “consultant” of Ms. De Lima, sought him sometime 2011 to ask for P10,000 to as much as P50,000.

Another witness, convicted killer Hans Anthony Tan, who is a member of the Sigue-Sigue Gang under Sebastian’s leadership, claimed that on Dec. 15, 2014 -- when the DoJ led a raid at the Bilibid -- he met a certain Jose Adrian Dera or “JAD,” who introduced himself as a nephew and close-in security of Ms. de Lima and a member of National Capital Region Police Office-Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs (NCRPO-RAID).

Ten months after, Tan said JAD contacted him and visited him a couple of times and introduced him as well to Sebastian and Peter Co.

On March 25 this year, Co was visited by a niece and her husband. Thereafter he received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the NCRPO-RAID, informing him that the couple was under its custody of NCRPO-RAID, and demanding from Co an initial P5 million.

Since Co could not speak English, it was Tan who took the phone, telling the caller they could not pay that amount.

Tan sought JAD’s help, remembering that he was part of the NCRPO-RAID. Tan said JAD initially asked for P1 million.

But Co also gave JAD another P1 million “for some other reason.” In the end, a total of P5 million was handed over to JAD “throughout the entire time until the senatorial election,” Tan said, adding they lost contact with JAD right after the elections.

For his part, resource speaker Benjamin N. Magalong -- former director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and now acting deputy chief for operations of the Philippine National Police -- said the CIDG on his watch had planned a raid at the Bilibid tagged Oplan Cronus.

The plan was presented to Ms. de Lima, Mr. Magalong said, adding that his agency and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) “waited and waited and waited” for a joint letter of instruction on the operation but it never came.

Nalaman ko na lamang po nung December, nagpaplano na sila na magre-raid sila. So tinanong ko yung contact ko sa PDEA, pati sila nagtataka kung bakit may raid sa NBP na hindi kami kasali (I just found out that in December [2014], they were already planning a raid. So I asked my contact at PDEA, and even they were wondering why we were not part of that operation.),” he said.

Mr. Magalong said they were totally “out of the picture” during that raid, adding that PDEA was just asked to provide K-9 units that day.

Earlier on Tuesday, in an interview with dzMM, House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez clarified that the House panel allowed Mr. Aguirre to lead the investigation so the inquiry would be “orderly.”

Hinayaan naming magtanong si Secretary Aguirre, at pagkatapos ay magtatanong ngayon yung mga members ng House of Representatives para maayos lahat, hindi nagkakagulo-gulo (We let Secretary Aguirre to ask questions first and members were allowed to ask questions after so this wouldn’t be disorderly),” Mr. Alvarez said.

He also said the immunity granted the witnesses is “limited” to their testimonies at the hearing.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Security Group (PSG) on Wednesday vowed to cooperate with the ongoing House probe on the proliferation of drugs at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) after a former member was accused of being involved in the narco-trade there.

Jonel Sanchez, a sergeant at the PSG who was detailed to Ms. de Lima, was named by Mr. Martinez as a driver and also bagman of Ms. de Lima who collected drug money from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) during a House inquiry on Tuesday.

PSG Spokesperson Lt. Col Michael T. Aquino said in an interview with reporters that Mr. Sanchez was immediately placed under investigation this week and confined to barracks also to ensure his safety.

Mr. Aquino also said the presidential security group will “probably” conduct a lifestyle check on the heels of allegations that Mr. Sanchez bought a house and a car in his two years as Ms. de Lima’s aide to De Lima.

Mr. Sanchez’s wife also works for PSG.

“The Command cannot give further details [of the PSG inquiry] as of this moment since we do not want to preempt the investigation that is being undertaken by the House of Representatives,” Mr. Aquino also said.

He also disclosed that his office received a letter inviting Mr. Sanchez to the House inquiry, adding, “We will cooperate.”

Mr. Sanchez was temporarily detailed to Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea while still securing his papers for his return to his mother unit, the Philippine Air Force. -- with Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral