(UPDATED) The justice chief says what he only approved was the use of air ‘coolers’ by inmates who suffered from high blood pressure. This, he says, is not a form of special treatment.
CONFIRMATION. The confirmation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is being opposed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. Rappler photo
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday, February 15, denied giving special treatment to high-profile inmates who testified against Senator Leila de Lima at a congressional inquiry, calling the confidential Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) memorandum "hearsay."
Aguirre made the statement at the resumption of his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. The allegation was part of the opposition filed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV against him before the Commission on Appointments (CA).
In his opposition, Trillanes cited the memo which stated that Aguirre allowed the special treatment of inmates at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Custodial and Detention Center.
At least 8 inmates, including convicted armed robber and drug dealer Herbert Colanggo, were transferred to the detention facility in September 2016, to ensure their safety prior to their testimonies at the House probe into the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when De Lima was justice chief.
Aguirre denied the contents of the memo, dismissing what was written by BuCor chief legal officer Alvin Lim as nothing but "hearsay."
"There’s no proof that there were electronic gadgets, smart television sets, airconditioning units, internet, cellular phones. These are all hearsay because Attorney Lim did not see this," Aguirre said.
He even said Trillanes’ opposition is "double hearsay" because it was only based on Lim’s statement.
Aguirre asserted this even after the AFP chief himself, General Eduardo Año, confirmed days earlier that there were "unauthorized fixtures" in cells of the inmates, similar to what the BuCor memo said.
"Alam mo sa amin sa Armed Forces, meron kaming tinatawag na (You know, we in the Armed Forces have what we call) security survey and inspection. This is done periodically to ensure that all facilities are safe from any espionage or any security compromise," Año said in an interview with reporters on February 9.
"So ‘yung portion na ‘yun as (So that portion, as) part of our job, we made some observations and investigations and inspection and the appropriate measure or course of action will be through the proper authority like the Bureau of Corrections and the Department of Justice and we believe they have made appropriate actions already," he added.
Año was apparently referring to Aguirre’s February 8 order for BuCor chief Benjamin delos Santos to "investigate and verify" the reported privileges, and to confiscate and dismantle them, if true. This came two months after Delos Santos supposedly raised the matter to Aguirre himself. (READ: FACT CHECK: Did Aguirre reward inmates who testified vs De Lima?)
Aircons for ‘high-blood’ inmates
In an interview after his confirmation hearing, however, Aguirre admitted that he allowed air "coolers" for the inmates, as many of them suffered from high blood pressure aggravated by the heat.
He said placing airconditioning units in detention cells is not a form of "special privilege."
"’Yung paglagay ng aircon, hindi yan special privilege kasi, although hindi ko sinabi maglagay kayo ng aircon. Noong una pa lamang nakulong ‘yung mga high-profile inmates sa AFP detention center, sobrang init to such an extent na ang blood pressure nila tumataas ng hanggang 235," Aguirre said.
(Installing aircons there is not considered a special privilege because when they were first detained at the AFP detention center, it was so hot that that their blood pressure shot to 235.)
"Sabi sa akin ng mga SAF at guwardiya, ‘Sec, ‘pag hindi ginawan ng paraan ‘yan, mamamatay ‘yang dalawang ‘yan.’ It just so happened na I was informed na hindi lang pala dalawa ang tumataas ang blood pressure kung hindi 5 at siguro naman, hindi mo mamasamain," he added.
(The SAF and guards told me: "Sec, if we don’t do anything, those two will die." It just so happened that there were not only two who suffered from high blood pressure but there 5. I think you won’t view that in a negative light.)
Aguirre said he did not know that aircon units were placed, as he thought these were only "coolers."
"Akala ko ‘yung lalagyan nila ng cooler pero hindi ko alam na naglagay pala ng aircon pero even ‘yun, kasi napakaliit ng detention cell na ‘yun tapos double decker sila," he said.
(I thought they would put coolers. I did not know that they would put aircons there because their detention cells were small and they used double deckers.)
Aguirre hits Lim’s credibility
During the hearing, Aguirre tried to cast doubt on Lim’s credibility.
He claimed the lawyer was found guilty of "grave misconduct" twice. There was no proof presented.
"Si Lim po (As for Lim), I never met [with] this person. A mutual friend said he wanted to rectify his statement and he is crying. Up to now, he is not going to the office, about one week already. And based on records of Attorney Lim, he was charged with grave misconduct and other charges; he was found guilty. The second one, he was charged again with grave misconduct," the justice chief said.
Aguirre also claimed Lim has a pending case for practicing law in Lucena City "without authority from the Secretary of Justice."
The CA held an executive session to discuss the BuCor issue involving Aguirre, as well as Trillanes’ request to subpoena Lim and the chief of the AFP Custodial and Detention Center.
The CA eventually confirmed Aguirre. – Rappler.com