By ARGYLL CYRUS B. GEDUCOS
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa wants to replace Special Action Forces (SAF) troopers assigned at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) with the Philippine Marines, Malacañang said yesterday.
This came after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguire II revealed Monday that he received a report about the resurgence of the illegal drug trade at the NBP which involved some SAF troopers.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said during the Palace press briefing yesterday morning that Dela Rosa has already spoken with President Duterte about the complete pullout of the SAF troopers.
“Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa has already talked to the President on the deployment of marines to replace SAF personnel in the Bilibid which has put on hold and it was overtaken by events because of the Marawi rebellion,” Abella said.
When asked if Duterte granted permission, the Palace official added that the replacement of the SAF troopers still lies on the decision of Dela Rosa.
More than 300 SAF contingents were deployed to the NBP last year and were supposed to stay for up to six months only before being replaced by the Marines.
However, the Marines have been participating in the ongoing armed conflict in the besieged Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
Abella, meanwhile, also assured that investigation on the alleged involvement of the SAF troopers is already underway.
“As the President has stated, we will be relentless. Investigation is now underway to probe drug-related activities and collusions, if any, of authorities,” he said.
Abella also reiterated that the discovery and neutralization of drug syndicates operating in the national penitentiary is one of the major accomplishments of the government’s war against illegal drugs.
He also said that the reported resumption of the drug trade and the involvement of the SAF in the Bilibid Prison underscore the enormity of the drug problem and the need to destroy the entire drug apparatus to fully succeed in the campaign.
On Tuesday, Dela Rosa said that the SAF requested that the PNP chief relieve them from duties at the NBP after admitting that they cannot stop the drug trade in the national penitentiary.
“They (SAF) have this apprehension that their reputation might get damaged there. They told me, ‘We are here but the drug trade continues. We cannot control it. We will be ruined. You better relieve us here.’ That’s their request,” Dela Rosa said Tuesday.
He added that the SAF does not have complete control over the NBP as they are only concern in securing building 14 and the maximum security compound where the alleged drug lords are detained.
However, the said drug personalities were moved to the medium and minimum security compounds that are beyond their control.
Aguirre noted on the possibility that some members of the SAF may have been tempted by the huge amount of money involved in the trade. He said he will ask for an investigation on the matter.
He added that the Department of Justice has already made a request to SAF to change the SAF contingent inside the NBP after receiving information on the resurgence of illegal drugs.
He said that the changing of SAF contingent will most likely take place by the end of this month.
Last year, Duterte revealed that the source of the 75 percent of the illegal drug trade nationwide comes from the NBP.