A drug kingpin linked to a pay-off scandal involving an arch-foe of President Rodrigo Duterte was killed and four other prisoners wounded in a stabbing at the Philippines' national penitentiary yesterday.
Prison officials said Tony Co, the dead man, was one of 19 "high-profile inmates" believed to be running a drug distribution hub from inside a maximum-security compound south of Manila.
Three of those rushed to hospital were Jaybee Sebastian, a gang leader, and two other top-tier convicts - Peter Co and Vicente Sy.
The fourth prisoner who was wounded, former police chief inspector Clarence Dongail, had minor injuries.
Tony Co, Peter Co, Sebastian and Sy have been named in an ongoing House of Representatives inquiry into allegations that Senator Leila de Lima received millions worth of drug money when she was justice minister in the Benigno Aquino administration from 2010 to last year.
At around 7.30am yesterday, Dongail stabbed Tony Co, Peter Co and Sy in Tony Co's sleeping quarters, according to Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo. His accomplice Tomas Domena attacked Sebastian, who was watching television in a common area. The prison authorities are trying to ascertain whether the attack was over turf or to settle personal grudges.
Justice Minister Vitaliano Aguirre told reporters that Ms de Lima "had the most to gain" by having Sebastian and the others killed.
"We want (Sebastian) alive rather than dead. If he dies, who will benefit? De Lima, right? There won't be anyone to connect her (to the drug trade)," said Mr Aguirre.
Sebastian was tagged by his fellow convicts during the House inquiry as the cell block leader who paid 100,000 pesos (S$2,800) a week from as early as 2011 to fund Ms de Lima's Senate run in 2013, in exchange for luxuries that allowed him to run a drug operation from inside the penitentiary.
A former Bureau of Corrections chief, told lawmakers he handed some 10 million pesos from Peter Co to Ms de Lima's driver on two occasions.
Sebastian has refused to testify in Congress against Ms de Lima. The other inmates attacked yesterday also have not testified.
Ms de Lima told reporters yesterday that Mr Aguirre, purportedly acting on President Duterte's instructions, has turned to using "mafia tactics and gangster-style operations" to coerce Sebastian and other inmates at the penitentiary into tagging her as "drug queen".
"It makes this government an assassin-state, a state that promotes murder and summary execution as policy and as weapon against its perceived enemies," she said.
On Tuesday, Ms de Lima said most of the evidence presented against her, including testimonies of inmates she allegedly coddled and bank records proving the pay- offs, was "fake".
She has accused Mr Duterte of orchestrating the investigation as "an act of vendetta" and to derail her own inquiry into more than 3,000 extrajudicial killings that have blighted the President's anti-crime drive.
The feud between Ms de Lima and Mr Duterte, dating back to when she investigated him for human rights violations in 2009, has degenerated into personal attacks.
Mr Duterte has called Ms de Lima "ugly" and "immoral" for allegedly having an affair with her driver. Ms de Lima, meanwhile, has called Mr Duterte "the lowest and vilest man in the country".