Philippines orders crackdown on privileged jailbirds

Philippines orders crackdown on privileged jailbirds

MANILA - Philippine authorities have given privileged inmates in the country's main prison until Christmas Eve to turn over their hidden guns, drugs and other contraband or the notorious facility will face a major shakedown.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima issued the ultimatum after two surprise searches of the Bilibid prison this week uncovered a horde of prohibited items including firearms, drugs, stashes of US dollars - and even a jacuzzi and a stripper bar.

Revelations that drug lords have been "living like kings" in luxury cells have shocked the Philippines, a nation used to tales of official corruption.

"Before Christmas, they should produce the contraband because we believe there are still illegal drugs and items kept hidden," de Lima said after leading the second search on Friday.

"I told them to produce that, otherwise I will really... turn the facility upside down," she told reporters.

Flanked by heavily-armed troops, de Lima led the searches of the luxurious special apartments of convicted drug lords in a sprawling suburban Manila complex built for 8,900 inmates but currently housing 23,000.

"I am disgusted, even beyond disgusted," she said after the raids, which uncovered secret panels leading to hidden rooms.

Three officials connected with Bilibid were relieved of their posts in preparation for an investigation over the apparent complicity of jail officials in allowing the items to be smuggled in, she said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered de Lima to reform the prison system, which has long been known for corruption with wealthy inmates enjoying special privileges.

"You can't be in prison and live like you are enjoying life in a condominium," said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda in a radio interview on Saturday.

"The president told Secretary Leila de Lima that the national prison needs to be straightened out. What has been ongoing for several years, Secretary Leila de Lima is putting a stop (to) right now," he said.

Members of the raiding team have said that some of the privileged convicts - who were allowed to live in special apartments with marble-tiled bathrooms and hot showers in the infamously crowded prison - had apparently been tipped off about the raids and were able to hide some of their contraband.

Investigators also said they are looking into reports that the firearms seized from the convicts appear to be registered under the names of provincial politicians.

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