Diokno told investigators on Wednesday during the hearings conducted by the Department of Justice (DoJ) fact-finding committee, that he had noticed that special privileges were being doled out to some inmates, particularly those allowed to stay in separate facilities (“nipa huts”) outside the minimum security compound, but his attention was occupied on other matters.
“Hindi ko po yan nadaanan masyado dahil ang aking drive ngayon ay yung drug problem, dahil napatay ang isang opisyal ko (“I didn’t focus on that too much as my drive was focused on the drug problem inside the prison, where one of my men was killed”) ,” Diokno said referring to the recent death of Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Assistant Director Rodrigo Mercado.
But Diokno stoutly denied that he had anything to do with the unauthorized trips of convicted killer Jose Antonio Leviste outside the New Bilibid Prison.
He said he was only “concerned with policies”, and that the superintendent of the national penitentiary had control over the accommodations extended to select prisoners such as Leviste.
He said, however, that upon receiving “raw information” a few months ago that some inmates were going out of the prison’s premises, he convened a conference with prison officials and leaders of the various prison gangs to warn them against abuse of “living in” and “sleep-out” privileges.
“I did not order the revocation of the privileges because we had no evidence yet,” Diokno revealed.
He said he ordered prison officials to furnish him daily reports on the movements of prisoners, as well as their visitors.
Diokno said when he was appointed to the NBP on Oct. 11, 2010, he started conducting ocular inspections of all penal colonies including the NBP and noticed several irregularities prompting him to issue a number of policy memorandum orders for his deputies.
He said he also met the council of elders (the VIP inmates who are consultants of various gangs inside the penitentiary), one of whom happened to be former Batangas Governor Antonio Leviste.
“Sinabihan ko sila (including Leviste) nung unang command conference namin na may nababalitaan ako na lumalabas sa kanila. Sinabihan ko na yung mga lumalabas diyan hindi pwede sa kin dahil ipahuhuli ko kayo at kakasuhan (“I told them, including Leviste, during the command conference that I had heard of inmates going out of the facility. I told those who went outside that I would not stand for this, and would have them arrested and charged),” Diokno claimed.
He added that he saw Leviste’s hut in his first ocular inspection of the area. However, he argued that he could not just change the policies imposed by his predecessor.
“Those policies were already there. I could not just change these because we are following the restorative model of justice or reformation. Our actions cannot be punitive,” said Diokno, responding to a question on why he allowed inmates to enjoy ‘living out’ or ‘sleep out’ privileges.
‘Living out’ inmates are minimum security inmates who are allowed to roam around the national penitentiary, but are required to return to their cell at night. Inmates with “sleep out status” are allowed to roam the national penitentiary reservation camps, and normally stay in their own huts built within the camp.
The DoJ is conducting a fact finding inquiry on the special privileges granted to some inmates following the arrest of Leviste outside a building he owns in Makati City last May 18. Last Saturday (May 21), the DoJ panel conducted an ocular inspection of the premises of the New Bilibid Prisons. Clarificatory hearings kicked off on Monday (May 23) inside the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa, where they also grilled Leviste.
Hearings on Tuesday and today were conducted at the DoJ Building in Padre Faura, Manila.
Diokno declared to the panel that he should not be held liable for Leviste’s escape.
“Hindi naman ako obligado na magbantay sa kanila. Policy-making lang po ako,” Diokno explained.
The DoJ panel of investigators is headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Dacanay. Her members are Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ma. Emilia Victorio, DOJ State Counsels Wilberto Tolitol and Charlene Mae Tapic, and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Intelligence Services deputy director Ruel Lasala.
The panel will wrap up its hearings today, Wednesday, after which a recommendation will be submitted to Secretary De Lima.