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Prison contraband.

There they go again. No, not the reported laglag/tanim-bala perps and their alleged scam of fleecing passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport by planting bullets in bags and luggage. We're talking about something as incorrigible and perhaps even more pernicious: The hoarding of weapons and other contraband at the New Bilibid Prison by the inmates themselves, and the seeming inability of prison authorities to put a stop to this menacing activity despite repeated raids on the felons' quarters.

The latest operation by a joint team from the Bureau of Corrections, the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency last week yielded high-powered firearms worthy of a private army. The cache was seized from three dormitories said to be occupied by the notorious prison gangs Sigue-sigue Sputnik, Commando, De Cuerna and Genuine Ilocano.

A look at photos of the firearms and other weapons laid out on a table and displayed for the cameras will make one shudder. How are people incarcerated by law-their movements and activities supposedly under heavy constraints and monitoring-able to amass such weaponry? The bulky firearms would be difficult to hide in prison, and under normal conditions, they would never even make it through the supposedly heavily screened entrance of the penitentiary, where security inspections are a requirement.

That assumes, of course, that the guards and their superiors do their jobs of policing the prison, and have not been co-opted by syndicates inside to look the other way. But the startling firepower on display after the raid belies any such idea. As reported in this paper, other than high-powered guns, the cache also included airsoft guns, mobile phones, chargers, over 60 bladed weapons, wooden knuckles and drug paraphernalia. There were also sex toys, a television and a personal refrigerator. The prisoners were also found to be keeping a caged civet cat, or musang, plus some P140,000 in cash.

We've heard this depressing news before-less than a year ago, in December 2014, when then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima led a team of raiders on a surprise inspection of the facility that uncovered not only firearms and cash but also a fortune in personal luxuries and effects on the persons and in quarters of 19 high-profile drug dealers. The convicts were found to be staying in air-conditioned rooms equipped with TV sets, Wi-Fi, refrigerators, Jacuzzis and sauna, hi-tech entertainment systems, concert equipment, aquariums, bar and kitchen, and back-up power generators. They sported pricey watches, had wads of cash in their pockets (the hoard totaled P2 million), exercised in a well-appointed private gym, and kept drugs, sex dolls, imported wines, even whitening creams in their rooms.

A follow-up raid led to more discoveries: a grenade, additional firearms, more shabu. De Lima had pronounced herself disgusted at this state of affairs, while the New Bilibid Prison head, Supt. Franklin Bucayu, deadpanned that if there was sufficient evidence that prison personnel had facilitated the entry of these prohibited items or colluded with well-off prisoners to wink and carry on as the jailbirds transformed their cells into luxury apartments, then they would be dealt with accordingly. After all, as he so profoundly put it, those objects did not appear [there] as if by magic.

The dramatic raids led to the drug convicts being stripped of their contraband riches and confined to regular cells in a new building in the prison. But, apparently, as soon as the cameras were gone, the penitentiary was back to its old self as a hive of fearsome guns and illegal drugs, and whatever physical comforts could be extracted from outside parties and pliant prison authorities by such persuasive possessions. In the wake of last week's raid,

Msgr. Robert Olaguer, the BuCor spokesperson, offered a not particularly reassuring explanation: The firearms have been concealed there for a long time. It would certainly take several years to hoard them.

Which means that the series of shakedowns last year, and this latest operation, appear to have barely scratched the surface of what the national penitentiary has become-a major hub of brazen, continuing criminality. The neglect and corruption in the penal system is breeding more lowlifes and wretches, who, ironically, now have all the time, and a base of operations guarded by cops no less, to do their foul deeds.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 7, 2015
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