A resurgent menace

As of yesterday, two of the persons of interest in the massacre of five members of a family in Bulacan had been killed, with their deaths blamed by the police on vigilantes. The two, along with confessed principal suspect Carmelino Ibañes, reportedly took shabu and drank gin before barging into a neighbor’s home where they allegedly raped Estrella Carlos and her mother Auring, and then killing the two women along with Carlos’ children aged 11, 7 and 1.

Such violent crimes blamed on the influence of prohibited drugs have been cited by the government as justification for its brutal crackdown on drug dealers and users. And surveys indicate that many Filipinos support the war on drugs.

A Senate probe showed that several of the top drug traffickers in this country run their trade from within a government facility: the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. The revelation prompted the government to deploy elite police Special Action Force commandos to the NBP.

Now the Philippine National Police is planning to pull out the SAF from NBP duty. This was after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, whose department has supervision over national prisons, reported the resurgence of drug trafficking from inside the NBP in recent months. There were hints that some of the SAF members might have been corrupted by drug money.

While that possibility cannot be ruled out, given the enormous profits from the illicit drug trade, authorities must also consider other factors that might have allowed the return of drug deals in the NBP. It is also good to ask if the drug deals ever really stopped.

Among the factors cited for the ease of running drug deals from within the NBP was the use of mobile phones by inmates. Elsewhere in the world, prisoners are limited to the use of landlines, with guards standing nearby when the inmates use the phones. The government reportedly installed jammers in the NBP to stop the mobile phone transactions. The measure apparently was not enough.

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Corruption is an obvious problem; how else could inmates manage to install air conditioning in their cells and bring an entire sauna facility into the NBP? Corruption is best discouraged by identifying and punishing NBP and Bureau of Corrections officials who might have benefited from the drug trade. How many have been caught and prosecuted?

President Duterte should ask these questions. If the drug trade can’t be eradicated in one prison, it cannot be stopped nationwide.

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