Duterte kin cleared, Faeldon faces raps for BOC shabu

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Duterte kin cleared, Faeldon faces raps for BOC shabu
President Duterte looks at the watch of former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II during the distribution of land titles to farmers in Mulanay, Quezon yesterday. Aguirre,alawschool classmate and fraternity brother of the President, is a native of Mulanay town.
KrizJohn Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — A fact-finding panel of the Office of the Ombudsman has cleared “for lack of basis” President Duterte’s son Paolo and son-in-law Manases Carpio of involvement in the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu in May 2017, but recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon.

In a statement, the ombudsman said its field investigators have finished the fact-finding stage of the probe. Those recommended for criminal indictment would have to undergo preliminary investigation by the ombudsman central office.

Sought for comment, Faeldon called the panel’s recommendation “completely ridiculous.” He is now deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).

Malacañang said it respects the recommendation of the panel as such will enable Faeldon and the others to “have their day in court where they can defend themselves in the upcoming preliminary investigation in connection with the incident.”

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had inhibited from the proceedings, citing her affinity with Manases and the Dutertes. Manases, her nephew, is married to presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

It was in November last year when Morales ordered a motu propio (own-initiative) investigation on the shabu shipment anomaly following the President’s pronouncement that an independent agency must look into the matter.

The ombudsman said the fact-finding panel specifically recommended that a complaint of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act be filed against Faeldon, then Bureau of Customs director Neil Anthony Estrella, BOC-Import Assessment Service (IAS) director Milo Maestrecampo, Risk Management Office (RMO) chief Larribert Hilario and Accounts Management Office (AMO) chief Mary Grace Tecson-Malabed.

The fact-finding team also recommended that additional complaints of usurpation of official functions under the Revised Penal Code and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 be filed against Faeldon.

The ombudsman panel also found sufficient ground to charge Faeldon, Malabed, Maestrecampo, as well as two other BOC officials Joel Pinawin and Oliver Valiente, with administrative offense of grave misconduct.

An administrative complaint of gross neglect of duty has also been recommended for Malabed and Maestrecampo.

“The criminal and administrative charges will undergo preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication, respectively,” the ombudsman’s statement read.

On May 26 last year, joint operatives from the BOC, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) seized 602.2 kilograms of shabu worth P6.4 billion during a raid on a warehouse in Valenzuela City owned by the Philippine Hongfei Logistics Group of Companies Inc. The illegal drugs were found hidden inside printing cylinders.

The shabu shipment supposedly arrived on May 17 from Xiamen, China and released from the Port of Manila on May 23.

“The BOC later discovered and seized the shabu but the manner through which the discovery and seizure were made leaves much to be desired,” the panel’s resolution read.

“Evidence suggests that numerous laws and administrative issuances pertaining to the proper search, seizure, handling and controlled delivery of drugs were violated by the public officers,” it added.

At a Senate hearing on the issue late last year, customs broker Mark Taguba revealed that sometime in January 2017, he handed over P5 million in cash to a certain “Small,” who claimed to be the representative of the younger Duterte in the task of helping Taguba facilitate the release of his shipment.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV earlier identified “Small” as Davao City Councilor Nilo Abellera, who was reportedly close to Duterte.

Trillanes said Paolo led the so-called “Davao group” which called the shots in the smuggling activities at the BOC. The opposition senator also accused Carpio of being part of the Davao group.

Taguba, in a statement released after his testimony at the Senate, clarified that he never knew Duterte and Carpio personally and that he had never implicated the two in the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China.

Duterte resigned as Davao City vice mayor at the height of the controversy but filed a civil suit against Trillanes before the Davao City regional trial court.

Deserving of honor

Instead of having him charged, Faeldon said he should even be honored and rewarded for his quick action that resulted in the seizure of the smuggled illegal drugs just three and half hours after he learned about it.

“Graft? I should be honored because I was able to catch (the shipment) despite its having been shipped out of our port,” he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo. “Where is justice here?” the former Marine captain said.

Citing the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), Faeldon maintained that it’s not the job of the BOC commissioner to process and sign importation clearances.

He added that if there is anyone who should be investigated, it’s the BOC collector in charge of processing the shipment.

“The commissioner doesn’t have the knowledge of the commodities that are being shipped out (in the country ports) because these commodities are being released by port collectors in charge,” he said.

“It is completely ridiculous,” he said of the ombudsman panel’s recommendation. “It’s very clear that I don’t have any responsibility in the clearances of all our ports. It’s very clear under the law,” Faeldon said. He added that he is ready to face any charges to clear his name.

“If they will pursue the case, it’s good on my part but really it is ridiculous… There’s no graft committed. Maybe some see it that way because for several months I was subjected to series of attacks but without me having a chance to air my side,” Faeldon said.

He added that had he not acted immediately on the shabu smuggling report, the contraband could have already been sold in the streets.

At the height of the shabu smuggling controversy, Faeldon resigned as BOC chair and later was detained at the Senate for contempt for refusing to answer questions from senators. He was moved to the Pasay City Jail but was later freed.

It was during his detention that President Duterte appointed him deputy director of OCD.

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