House minority lawmakers push for prosecution against officials in illegal drug trade

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Public officials and personnel implicated in the House of Representatives' report on the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary must be held accountable, minority lawmakers said Wednesday.

"There must be a recommendation for the prosecutions of the accountability of these public officers and personnel," deputy minority leader Alfredo Garbin, Jr. told  CNN Philippines' "The Source."

His declaration came a day after the House's Committee on Justice and Human Rights approved its final report summarizing testimonies of inmates accusing jail personnel and justice officials of involvement in the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison.

However, the report  fell short of recommending prosecution of the implicated officials, chief among them, the former justice secretary-turned-senator Leila de Lima, even as it stated that "all of the evidence point to these illegal activities."

Also read: After probe on Bilibid drug trade, House won't recommend charges vs. De Lima

Garbin said the minority bloc was going to file a separate opinion before the Office of the Secretary-General at the House of Representatives.

The Secretry-General is responsible for carrying out and enforcing orders and decisions of the House.

However, house Committee on Justice chair Reynaldo Umali said such a move to recommend prosecution was moot, since actions have already been taken.

"Recommending the filing of cases is already stale at this point in time," said Umali, who also guested on "The Source."

He cited recent charges filed against De Lima with the Justice Department by her subordinates in the National Bureau of Investigation and the anti-crime watchdog Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.

"Why recommend something that has been done," Umali said, adding that it would be more productive for the House of Representatives to pursue legislation that would help curb the illegal drug trade in the jail.

Plenary plans

The House of Representatives will discuss arguments for and against the report on Wednesday.

After its presentation to the rest of the lawmakers in a plenary session, a vote to either adopt the majority report or the dissenting opinion will be cast.

Until the plenary approves the report, its specifics will remain confidential.

"We cannot really say what is contained in the report as yet, because the rules of the House prohibit us," said Umali, adding there might be changes to the report after the plenary.

He merely outlined the contents of the report into three: the proliferation of drug syndicates, the involvement and accountability of authorities, and legislative measures.

Possible legislation

Garbin called on the immediate implementation of the Bureau of Corrections Modernization Act of 2013 to "professionalize jail management, get better equipment, and increase the salaries of the jail personnel."

He added that legislature also needed to address the decongestion and overpopulation in Bilibid.

"In order to dissolve the organized gangs, criminals and drug syndicates, we need to decongest it, even regionalize it," he said.

Umali reiterated the house report's call to provide exceptions to the Anti-Wiretapping Law, Bank Secrecy Law, and the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

The revival of death penalty, which was suspended in 2006, was also proposed in the report.

De Lima, who ran and won for senator in 2016, was Justice Secretary from 2010 to 2015. The Bureau of Corrections fell under her jurisdiction.

Over several days of hearings at the house committee on justice, inmates testified that she allegedly received payoffs from convicted drug lords inside Bilibid to fund her senatorial bid.