PNP to investigate alleged involvement of SAF troops in 'resurgence' of drug trade in Bilibid

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 5) — Authorities are investigating the alleged involvement of the Philippine National Police's elite unit in the reported resurgence of illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary.

PNP Director General Ronald Dela Rosa on Tuesday told Special Action Force (SAF) troops his trust in them is unwavering, but there's a need to address claims linking them to corrupt activities at the New Bilibid Prison.

"Pinipilit ko man sarili ko na hindi maniwala, I have to be objective… Hindi naman ibig sabihin na naniwala agad ako sa allegation. But kailangang i-address ko ito. This is drugs, this is a billion-peso industry na nasisira dahil sa ating effort," he said.

[Translation: Even if I refuse to believe it, I have to be objective. It does not mean I am believing the allegations. But I have to address this. This is drugs. This is a billion-peso industry that is crumbling because of our efforts.]

RELATED: ₱110-million drug bust is proof that illegal drug trade in Bilibid continues: police chief

Standing before SAF troops, Dela Rosa asked them straight if they are involved in the supposed return of illegal drugs in Bilibid, to which they sharply answered, "No, sir."

He said, "Mahirap kung masira ang institusyon natin. Bago man masira, kung talagang totoo, we have to weed out kung sino man involved... Please don't break my heart. Huwag ninyo akong biguin."

[Translation: It's hard if our institution gets tainted. Before it gets ruined, if there's any truth to it, we have to weed out those involved. Please don't break my heart. Do not let me down.]

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on July 4 ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe and case build-up on the "reported resurgence" of illegal drug trade in the facility.

Around 400 SAF troopers man the New Bilibid Prison's maximum security compound and Building 14, where high profile inmates including convicted drug lords are detained. The SAF is a special anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit which could also be assigned other tasks.

Dela Rosa ordered the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management to conduct a counterintelligence investigation on the claims.

"Kung totoo, masakit man, I have to deal with you accordingly. Kapag kayo mismo gumawa nang masama, ako mismo magpapakulong sa inyo. Ako mismo ang kalaban ninyo," he said.

The Justice Department said administrative and criminal cases must be filed against those found guilty.

Revenge for government's drug war?

Dela Rosa believes the claims against his men stemmed from powerful personalities in the illegal drug trade targeted by the administration's war on illegal drugs. But he reminded them to keep their heads up and continue doing their job.

"Billion dollar-peso drug industry ang ginigiba natin. Normal na reresbakan tayo. This is one way to get back at us, itong sisirain tayo. Kahit low morale kayo sa akusasyon na yan, pakita pa rin ninyo na professional kayo… You continue discharging your job to the best of your ability," he said.

[Translation: We are taking down a billion-dollar peso drug industry. It's normal for them to exact vengeance, to take us down. Even though your morale is low due to the accusations, you must show them you are professionals. You continue discharging your job to the best of your ability.]

He added President Rodrigo Duterte is counting on the police to rid the country of illegal drugs.

"Kung ito ay totoo, it may hurt us but we have to face the truth. Haharapin natin yan because as I have said we will live and die with this war on drugs. Wala nang ibang inaasahan si President para dito sa giyera ng droga, kung hindi tayo. At wala akong ibang inaasahan kung hindi kayo," he said.

[Translation: If this is true, it may hurt us but we have to face the truth. We will face it because as I have said, we will live and die with this war on drugs. The President is counting on us on this war against drugs. I am counting on you.]

SAF troopers were first deployed at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City a year ago as part of an "internal cleansing," following the confiscation of illegal drugs, cellphone signal boosters, and other contraband. A new set of SAF officers were appointed in December to avoid familiarity and corruption, Dela Rosa said.

RELATED: PNP SAF mans Bilibid, seizes contraband

RELATED: New SAF troopers deployed at Bilibid

"Normal magkakaroon ng level of familiarity, pero kung mataas ang level ng disiplina mo... You should know the purpose why you're here. Kapag alam niyo anong purpose niyo dito, hindi kayo magpapawala sa direction. Hindi kayo mako-corrupt," he said on Wednesday.

[Translation: It is normal to have a level of familiarity (with the inmates), but if your discipline is high… You should know the purpose why you're here. If you know your purpose, you won't lose sight of your direction. You cannot be corrupted.]

SAF troops said they want out of the national penitentiary, especially now that they are linked to illegal activities.

"Initially, ang pagkasabi is three months lang then we will be replaced by other unit. Pero hindi nangyari. Now our troops have been asking kung kailan tayo matapos and we have been explaining to them," SAF Deputy Director Dennis Basngi said.

While Basngi respects the PNP Chief's decision for an investigation, he doubts drug deals happened under their watch.

Aside from the Duterte administration's unrelenting war against illegal drugs, it is also continuing its fight against erring police officers.

RELATED: War on drugs, war vs. rogue police to continue on Duterte's second year

CNN Philippines correspondent AC Nicholls contributed to this report.