In what could arguably be the “mother of all scandals,” President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte dropped a bombshell in front of Sen. Leila de Lima’s face. Calling it a “drugs matrix” — known as the “Muntinglupa Connection” — Duterte released a document showing links between De Lima and several others allegedly involved in illegal drug activities at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) during the previous Aquino administration. The NBP is colloquially called “Munti,” short for Muntinglupa City where the NBP is located. De Lima at that time was the country’s Justice Secretary. Wouldn’t that be like Don Vito Corleone – “Godfather” of La Cosa Nostra fame — being appointed Attorney General of the United States?
The matrix shows the following: Senator De Lima; De Lima’s former driver Ronnie Palisoc Dayan; former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III; Pangasinan Board Member Raul Sison; Pangasinan provincial administrator Rafael Baraan (Francisco’s brother); former Pangasinan Governor and now Rep. Amado Espino Jr.; retired general and former Bureau of Corrections (BUCOR) Chief Franklin Bucayo; and a certain “Ms. Cardenosa.”
Duterte said that the matrix explains the dynamics of the illegal drug network at the NBP. While he did not disclose the source of the matrix, it shows De Lima at the top with three lines connecting her to former Undersecretary Baraan, Bucayo, and Dayan. The matrix also shows that Dayan was De Lima’s boyfriend since her days in the Commission on Human Rights.
Duterte accused Dayan of being De Lima’s link to convicted drug lords, who were supposedly allowed to run their illegal operations at the NBP when she was Justice Secretary. In the government’s pecking order, the NBP is under the Department of Justice. The matrix also shows that Dayan is “a known drug user in Urbiztondo,” and that De Lima gave him a house and lot, money, and vehicles.
But what is intriguing is a Manila Times news report, dated August 21, saying: “President Rodrigo Duterte is in possession of wiretaps and ATM records showing that the former driver-bodyguard of Sen. Leila de Lima transacted with drug syndicates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinglupa when she was Justice Secretary.” Further, the report said: “The two were intimate, he said, based on recordings of their ‘lovers’ talk’ over the phone.” Duterte claimed that a foreign country, which he did not name, provided the wiretaps.
The matrix also shows that with the help of De Lima, Bucayo was designated as Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Director of Police Regional Office 1. It also shows that Bucayo was a go-between of De Lima and Espino. It is noteworthy that after his retirement from the military, De Lima appointed Bucayo as BUCOR Chief. However, he resigned because of alleged involvement in illegal drugs after contraband was found inside the NBP.
The line that connects De Lima to former Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III leads to Espino through Francisco’s brother Rafael Baraan, whom Espino allegedly used to cover for his illegal activities. The matrix describes Espino as the “richest politician in Northern Luzon.” Both Espino and Baraan were involved in black sand mining in Pangasinan. Recently, Espino has been charged with plunder for an illegal mining case.
With all these linkages in the “Muntinglupa Connection,” it shows a network that is not unlike the “organized crime” in the U.S. where various layers are used to insulate the boss at the top of the criminal hierarchy. Could Dayan have been De Lima’s conduit — or “consigliere,” as the Mafia calls it – to the drug lords at NBP?
But De Lima, as expected, denied the allegations. She also denied the existence of the illegal drug “shabu” inside the NBP compound when she was Justice Secretary. She also denied allegations that she bought Dayan a house in Pangasinan. However, according to the Urbiztondo Municipal Assessor’s Office, Dayan’s sister owns the land where Dayan’s house was built. But this is a typical modus operandi of corrupt government officials: the titles to their properties are in the names of “dummies” – relatives, friends or associates. Interestingly, the matrix shows that a certain “Ms. Cardenosa” is connected to and serving as Dayan’s “dummy” of his properties. The matrix also shows that she is connected to Espino and Sison.
But De Lima, who isn’t taking the whole shebang without a fight, complicates the situation. Calling the accusations linking her to illegal drugs at the NBP “absolute lies,” De Lima who is the Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is leading the probe into the summary killings of suspected drug offenders. The House of Representatives is also set to investigate the alleged illegal drug operations at the NBP.
While it is commendable what Duterte is doing to rid the country of illegal drugs and stamp out corruption in government, some people doubt if he could accomplish all these within the framework of the law. Indeed, Duterte is getting a lot of flak from self-righteous people who believe that the law – in the strictest sense — should be applied in prosecuting those involved in the illegal drug trade. But that’s what had been done in the past and — guess what? — the illegal drug problem was getting worse, which is turning the country into a major hub in the international drug trade. And as shown in Duterte’s “drugs matrix,” production of “shabu” is being done inside the NBP under De Lima’s alleged protection. With 20 of the country’s major drug lords incarcerated at the NBP, they’ve transformed the prison — with the connivance of prison staff — into a government-owned “shabu” factory.
But while it’s sad that those who are sworn to uphold the law and protect the citizens are protecting the illegal drug trade in this country, it’s horrible to see a growing number of people suffering from addiction to “shabu” and other illicit drugs. What we’re seeing today are people turning into narco-zombies.
Can you blame Duterte then for trying his best to stop this “beast” that is gnawing at the fabric of our society? And can we blame him if he’s using unorthodox methods to fight an unorthodox enemy who victimizes the people – anybody — regardless of age or status in life?
I realize that some people are concerned with the collateral damage in the war against the drug menace. But like any other war, collateral damage cannot be avoided; it can only be minimized. And what would be considered minimal? In an attempt to put it on a positive note, the following statistics show some bright outlook in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
The PNP reported that 239 drug suspects were slain in police operations as of July 22. An average of 11 people we killed each day during the first 22 days of the Duterte presidency. In almost all the cases, the PNP claimed self-defense. The total number of drug pushers and users who surrendered to authorities is 120,038. Among them are 7,107 drug pushers and the rest are self-confessed drug users.
While all these police operations help in fighting this vicious plague, the bottom line is: “Cut off the head of the snake.” With an approval rating of 91%, is Duterte doing the right thing in going after De Lima, the alleged head of the “drugs matrix”? But the ultimate question is: Will he succeed?