Marawi siege veterans deployed to man Bilibid

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — From the lairs of the ISIS-inspired Maute group, to the so-called "command center" of illegal drug trade, the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Forty-seven police veterans of the five-month siege in Marawi reported for work at the national penitentiary on Tuesday, to replace Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in manning the drug-infested facility.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald dela Rosa warned them against accepting bribes from drug lords, saying it should be enough they were promoted and given bigger salaries.

"Please don't let me down…Ako ang babaril sa inyo pag kayo tatanggap ng bribery sa loob (I will shoot you if you accept bribes)," he said.

Chief Inspector Christopher Mendoza, who leads the Marawi police veterans, said they will serve as "incorruptible police officers and true blooded SAF troopers."

"We have to do things right even if no one is watching," he said.

The PNP on Monday conferred meritorious promotions to 745 Joint Task Group PNP contingent for their invaluable and exemplary involvement in the liberation of Marawi City from the hands of terrorists in October 2017.

Dela Rosa, who was named next Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief, wants to deploy SAF personnel at the medium security compound amid reports of illegal drug transactions happening there.

The BuCor, which is under the Justice Department, supervises the Bilibid.

A battalion of about 400 SAF troopers are already manning the maximum security compound and Building 14, where the high-profile drug lords are detained.

The inmates trade drugs with those outside the jail through the use of cellphones, drug enforcement officials earlier said in a House hearing on the Bilibid drug trade.

BuCor officials admitted it is difficult for the "undermanned" bureau to control the entry and use of contraband.

READ: PDEA: Drug trade persists in Bilibid

Dela Rosa said the police force is also on the lookout for Chinese drug lords operating outside the prison, like those in Binondo, Manila.

"Palabasin nila palagi na dito nanggagaling ang transaction ng droga para ang focus nandito lahat. Naka-focus na dito, hindi na mapapansin ang mga drug lord sa labas. Sira pa ang Bureau of Corrections at Special Action Force," he said.

[Translation: "They always make it appear like all illegal transactions come from Bilibid to shift the focus of the police here. That way, drug lords outside escape police attention, putting the Bureau of Corrections and Special Action Force in bad light."]

The NBP is the largest national penitentiary, and notorious for its drug trade. It is one of seven penitentiaries run by BuCor.

In efforts to curb the drug trade, the elite SAF was first assigned to take over sentry duties at the NBP in July 2016. A year after, BuCor Chief Benjamin delos Santos resigned from his post amid the reported resurgence of drug trade in the facility.