Duterte Year 2: Biggest drug bust bags a bodegero
Close to the start of the second year of the Duterte administration, the Bureau of Customs made one of its biggest drug busts.
Philstar.com/Graphics by RP Ocampo
Duterte Year 2: Biggest drug bust bags a bodegero
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - July 1, 2018 - 9:35am

This piece is part of a news analysis series on the second year of the Duterte administration

MANILA, Philippines (Updated, 3:44 p.m.) — “There are many amongst us who advance the assessment that the problems that bedevil our country today which need to be addressed with urgency, are corruption, both in the high and low echelons of government, criminality in the streets, and the rampant sale of illegal drugs in all strata of Philippine society and the breakdown of law and order.”

In his first speech as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte did not mince words in his promise of a ruthless war against drugs, crime and corruption.

These promises would always figure, sometimes not in the same words but always with the same passion, in the firebrand leader's later “freestyle” speeches. Perhaps, the repetition is an indication of how resolute the president is in achieving his campaign promise despite missing self-imposed deadlines several times.

As the Duterte administration was entering its second year, the Bureau of Customs made one of its biggest drug busts: On May 27, 2017, Bureau of Customs and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency operatives seized 604 kilos of shabu, valued at P6.4-billion, in warehouses in Valenzuela City.

The raid was prompted by intelligence reports from China, through its Office of the National Narcotics Control Commission and Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Safety.

Personalities linked in the case range from a near illiterate warehouseman, to foreigner traders, Bureau of Customs officials, to Paolo Duterte — the president's son who has been cleared of allegations but has also resigned as vice mayor of Davao City.

Former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon tendered his resignation three times before President Rodrigo Duterte accepted it. He has since been reappointed to the Office of the Civil Defense. Geremy Pintolo, file

'Weak' complaint clears Customs execs

The government’s battle to hold people accountable for the multibillion-peso shabu case has not been easy.

First, the PDEA filed a weak complaint of conspiracy and coddling, according to the state prosecutors who conducted the preliminary investigation into the case. This resulted in the Department of Justice clearing Customs officials like its commissioner, Nicanor Faeldon.

The panel said that the PDEA failed “to state with clarity the acts or omissions supposedly committed by the [BOC officials] that would constitute violation of the offense charged.”

RELATED: How forensic science is making a breakthrough in the Philippines

The Senate also conducted a legislative inquiry—the probe spanned nine hearings—into the matter. Several Customs officials were accused of receiving grease money, putting the spotlight on a separate issue altogether: A “tara system” that allegedly involved corruption at different levels of the Customs bureau.

Authorities seized 604 kilograms of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. The shipment was declared as kitchenware, footwear and moldings, as it slipped through the Bureau of Customs. Edd Gumban, file

Battle continues in local courts

Initially, the state prosecutors filed the drug importation case before a Valenzuela court. But the sala of Presiding Judge Maria Nena Santos junked the case due to lack of jurisdiction.

She said that although the raided warehouses were located in Valenzuela, the case stems from the shipment, which arrived at the Manila International Container Port in Manila.

Prosecutors appealed the case, but it was again dismissed. A case for drug transportation was instead filed before the Valenzuela court, while drug importation charges against the accused were lodged at the Manila court.

Earlier this year, the Manila court issued arrest warrants for the following accused:

  • Mark Ruben Taguba II, customs “fixer”
  • Eirene Mae Tatad, consignee of EMT Trading
  • Chen Ju Long a.k.a. Richard Chen
  • Li Guang Feng a.k.a. Manny Li
  • Dong Yi Shen a.ka. Kenneth Dong or Yi Shan Dong
  • Teejay Marcellana
  • Chen I-min
  • Jhu Ming Jyun
  • Chen Rong Huan

Taguba and Tatad surrendered to authorities in February. Taguba was committed to a Philippine National Police facility, while Tatad was sent to a Manila jail.

But another linked to the smuggling has been behind bars for longer.

Fidel Anoche Dee, the man who barely knows letters and numbers and was hired to watch over the shipment of what was supposedly kitchenware, has been in jail for more than a year.

The case of Fidel Anoche Dee

Dee was unemployed in Zambales when he was contacted by his sister, Emily Dee, in May 2017 for a job.

Two Taiwanese—“Jun Wang” and “Jhu Ming Jyun”—wanted to rent his sister’s old house for use as a “bodega,” and they wanted someone whom Emily trusts to be the warehouseman.

Emily tapped her brother, thinking the gig would give Fidel needed income.

In an email exchange with Philstar.com, lawyer Kris Francisco Rimban said: “Fidel Dee was never involved in the business of Jun Wang and Jhu Ming-Jyun. He was a mere ‘bodegero’ hired to receive cargo and to clean the premises when necessary.”

Unlike others tagged in the case who were only detained this year and after a local court issued warrants earlier, Dee has been detained since the May 26 raid.

Since he was the bodegero, or caretaker, of the warehouse, he was caught in the massive raid.

Dee was charged with violation of Section 11 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, or possession of illegal drugs. This is a non-bailable charge.

“The allegation is that Fidel Dee was in possession of the dangerous drugs because he was present at the warehouse at the time it was raided by PDEA agents,” Rimban said.

For more than a year, the warehouseman has been behind bars while the Taiwanese who rented what he was guarding have managed to elude arrest.

The National Bureau of Investigation is looking for them, and the court has also issued a hold departure order against foreigners implicated in the case.

While Dee and his legal team are “frustrated” with the “prolonged detention” of the bodegero, they remain “hopeful that he will be acquitted.”

The next hearing on Dee’s case will be in early July.

No Customs officials brought to court

Duterte’s campaign promise is three-pronged: It is a war against drugs, criminality and corruption.

While the president said he does not tolerate even a “whiff of corruption,” some of the men who were said to have had a hand in the shabu shipment have been brought back into the government.

  • Nicanor Faeldon: Former Customs chief, reappointed as Deputy Administrator III of the Office of the Civil Defense, under the Department of National Defense
  • Vincent Philip Maronilla: Manila International Container Port Distict Customs collector, reappointed on December 1 as NAIA Customs District Collector
  • Gerardo Gambala: Former Deputy Commissioner reappointed as Director IV of the Office for Transportation Security, under the Department of Transportation
  • Milo Maestrecampo: Former Customs Import Assessment Service director, reappointed as Assistant Director General II of Civil Aviation Authority, under the Department of Transportation
  • Teddy Raval: Former director of Enforcement and Security Service, reappointed as Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Group

READ: Exec in P6.4-B shabu case now BOC-NAIA collectorPalace defends reappointment of two ex-Customs officials accused of corruption

While Faeldon and several Customs officials from the case got off from criminal indictment at the DOJ, the Office of the Ombudsman’s fact-finding panel recommended cases against them.

The panel said Faeldon should face graft, grave misconduct, usurpation of official functions and liability to person violating the regulation of the board complaints.

READ: Ombudsman panel seeks charges vs Faedon, others over P6.4B in smuggled shabu

Others who will undergo a preliminary investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman are:

  • Maestrecampo, for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and committing gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct. Maestecampo is now an assistant director at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.
  • Former Risk Management Office chief Larribert Hilario, for violation Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act
  • Accounts Management Office chief Mary Grace Tecson-Malabed, for violation of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and committing gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct
  • BOC intelligence officer Joel Pinawin, for grave misconduct
  • BOC intelligence officer Oliver Valiente, for grave misconduct

The investigation into these officials may continue under the helm of the new ombudsman, whom Duterte will appoint after Conchita Carpio-Morales retires on July 26.

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ANOCHE DEE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE NICANOR FAELDON P6.4 SHABU SHIPMENT CASE RODRIGO DUTERTE THE DUTERTE YEARS THE DUTERTE YEARS: YEAR 2
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