The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has submitted documents purporting to show illegal drug transactions between P500 million and P1 billion that may have ended in Sen. Leila de Lima’s bank accounts, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II told the Inquirer on Thursday.
The disclosure followed allegations in the congressional hearings the past two days that De Lima, as justice secretary of former President Benigno Aquino III, had received millions of pesos in payoffs for the protection of high-profile convicts who had turned New Bilibid Prison (NBP) into the center of a multibillion-peso narcotics operation.
Aguirre said the Department of Justice (DOJ) had received documents from the AMLC concerning bank transactions of drug syndicates operating from NBP.
“We don’t expect the bank deposits to be under the name of De Lima because she uses people to collect on her behalf,” he said.
Asked about the amount of deposits, he said, “The amount is between P500 million [and] more than one billion pesos.”
Aguirre said it would be unlawful for the DOJ to disclose the specific amount prior to the filing of criminal charges against De Lima.
Following testimony by NBP drug lords during the two-day hearing of the House of Representatives committee on justice, he said there was sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges against De Lima.
Asked for comment, De Lima said her accusers would not find anything in her bank accounts that would implicate her in the drug trade.
“As far as I know, there’s nothing there that would establish my alleged drug links,” she said in a text message to the Inquirer.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Director Benjamin Magalong, deputy chief for operations of the Philippine National Police, testified that a meticulously planned interagency raid on NBP in December 2014 was aborted at the last minute in favor of an operation led by De Lima.
Magalong, a bemedaled officer in the PNP with a rank equivalent to a two-star general in the military, said that while the De Lima raid was successful in uncovering contraband, he was dismayed that the most powerful drug lord—Jaybee Sebastian—was not among the several dozen kingpins removed for confinement at the National Bureau of Investigation.
Testimony in the House hearing suggested that following the removal of 19 drug lords, Sebastian raised quotas for the sale and distribution of “shabu,” or crystal meth, purportedly to raise funds for De Lima’s senatorial campaign in the May elections.
In a news conference on Thursday, De Lima denied she was protecting Sebastian, pointing out that he was her “asset” in her bid to dismantle drug operations in NBP.
The Duterte administration has deployed PNP Special Action Force commandos to the penitentiary to smash the drug rings that had turned NBP into what the convicts testifying at the hearings described as a “little Las Vegas,” where celebrity entertainers performed at concerts flowing with beer and high-priced call girls were available during “wild nights.”
Aguirre also denied that the government was harassing Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino, a former official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), to testify against De Lima.
But Aguirre maintained in a telephone interview with the Inquirer that testimonies of Magalong and Marcelino were vital to establish the links of De Lima to illegal drugs in the penitentiary.
De Lima claimed authorities had resorted to torture, intimidation and harassment to force people, including Marcelino, to testify against her.
Earlier, the DOJ reversed its June 21 resolution that cleared Marcelino of drug charges in connection with a raid on a purported narcotics den.
Instead, the DOJ ruled on Wednesday that Marcelino was guilty and a trial should be pursued against him.
“There is no truth to that claim. I did not even know about that resolution until I read it in the news,” Aguirre said in a text message on Thursday.
Marcelino, along with his Chinese companion Yan Yi Shou, faced violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 after a drug raid in Manila on Jan. 21.
Earlier, Marcelino claimed it was a frame-up because he was on an undercover mission when a cache of 60 kilos of shabu was seized.
Aguirre said the DOJ was working to present more witnesses to the House inquiry. They include Sebastian; Sgt. Jonel Sanchez, a former security aide of De Lima; Ronnie Dayan, her former driver, alleged lover and bagman; and former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III.
“We continue to gather testimonies and documents to establish the fact that Senator De Lima is involved in the illegal drug trade inside NBP,” Aguirre said in a telephone interview with the Inquirer.
Aguirre said Magalong’s testimony was “ the biggest piece of the jigsaw puzzle” in linking De Lima to the illegal drug trade in NBP.
He confirmed that a high official of the Aquino administration and member of the Liberal Party was under investigation but declined to give details.
“I would like to have an airtight evidence before we file the case against Senator De Lima even as the testimonies of witnesses in the House inquiry already prove that she was benefiting from money from illegal drug trade,” Aguirre said. With a report from Tarra Quismundo