PDEA: Corrupt BOC men allowed entry of shabu

Emmanuel Tupas - The Philippine Star
PDEA: Corrupt BOC men allowed entry of shabu
“An international drug syndicate will never gamble in bringing illegal drugs here if they don’t have contacts within the Customs who will help facilitate the entry,” Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Aaron Aquino said in a phone interview. He did not give details.
Joven Cagande / File

House set to probe drug smuggling

MANILA, Philippines — Some people in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) are in cahoots with the drug syndicate that brought a ton of shabu worth P6.8 billion into the country, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Aaron Aquino said yesterday.

“An international drug syndicate will never gamble in bringing illegal drugs here if they don’t have contacts within the Customs who will help facilitate the entry,” Aquino said in a phone interview. He did not give details. 

In a GMA News interview on Friday, Aquino expressed belief BOC chief Isidro Lapeña was unaware of the illegal activities of some of his men.

He said it was impossible for X-ray machine operators at the Customs to have not detected the narcotics inside the containers. “Those X-ray machines should have the capability (to detect drugs). If they don’t, then we should buy new equipment,” he said.

PDEA agents on Friday found traces of shabu in several magnetic lifters they seized at a warehouse in Barangay Francisco Reyes in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.

As the magnetic lifters were already empty when seized, Aquino said a ton of shabu could have already made its way to the streets of Metro Manila.

He lamented that PDEA’s efforts were for naught as illegal drugs continued to arrive in large volumes.

He said his men and members of the Philippine National Police were risking their lives seizing drugs only by the grams.

“We seize around five grams in an operation but the drugs entering are by the ton, so what’s the use of our efforts?”

Aquino said there are 11 Chinese among the 19 persons of interest linked to the Cavite shipment. The list does not include any BOC personnel.

A certain Chao Yue Wah, alis KC Chan, Albert Chan or Tony Chan, is the reported liaison man for the drug syndicate.

Aquino has ordered backtrack investigation on the activities of the suspects.

“Hopefully, at the end we will be able to find out the others who are involved, aside from the 19 persons of interest,” he said.

No sharing of info

In a press briefing, Lapeña lamented the failure of PDEA to share intelligence information with the BOC.

“I would like to state on record that paramount in increasing our effectiveness in carrying out our mandate of border protection in the suppression and prevention of smuggling of any commodity is the timely receipt of intelligence information from the lead agencies primarily tasked to eliminate illegal drugs in the country, and the close coordination with proper authorities between agencies,” Lapena said.

“Our mechanisms are in place, and consistent with my policy to verify all derogatory information received, I would have immediately alerted all those shipments and, if necessary, the entire port to prevent the release of illegal drugs. Since my assumption, the Bureau of Customs conducted intensified and relentless efforts against any form of smuggling,” he added.

Asked if the issue had strained relations between the BOC and PDEA, he flatly said “no.”

Had he been given “even one hour” advanced information that a 40-foot container van from Taiwan that arrived at the MICP last July 11 might contain drugs, he would have ordered a “special stop” and placed the shipment on hold, he emphasized.

A backtracking probe conducted by the BOC revealed that the four magnetic lifters found in Cavite were consigned to SMYD Trading owned by Marina dela Cruz Signapan with address at 6th floor, Suite 605A Victoria Building, 4239 UN Avenue, Barangay 666, Manila. Customs broker was Katrina Grace Cuasay.

Lapeña said they are still checking which of the 140 importations made by SMYD were of magnetic lifters.

BOC spokesman Erastus Sandino Austria said the way the drugs were hidden inside the magnetic lifters showed that “we are fighting a sophisticated and well-funded drug syndicate.”

Lapeña also said that he has recommended to the Department of Finance (DOF) the relief of MICP collector Vener Baquiran, who headed the port district when the magnetic lifters arrived on June 28 and July 11.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said concerned authorities are now coordinating with their foreign counterparts to trace the origin of the latest shabu shipment.

“We view the latest reported foreign drug shipment as a sign that big-time drug manufacturers and smugglers are becoming bolder with a dwindled local supply as they feel pressure from the government’s campaign against illegal drugs,” Roque said.

House probe

The House of Representatives will also investigate the shabu smuggling, according to Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, who chairs the committee on dangerous drugs.

“We have a scheduled meeting on Tuesday on another subject matter but we will already tackle this missing shabu report upon the initiative of the chairman. We don’t have to wait for a resolution as we usually do,” he said.

Initially, he said he would invite the concerned officials of the BOC and the PDEA.

“Later, depending on the testimonies of these officials, we will invite all those who had to do with the alleged shipment, like the importer, the broker and the owner of the warehouse where it was supposedly delivered,” he added.

Barbers pointed out that his committee’s inquiry could be a repeat of the acrimonious investigation the House conducted last year on the P6.4-billion shabu cargo that found its way to two warehouses in Valenzuela City.

“The only difference is that the drug shipment in Valenzuela was seized, while in this new case, the PDEA says the contraband entered the country and is missing. We will ask them for proof of their allegations,” he said.

Last year, ex-Navy captain Nicanor Faeldon resigned as Customs commissioner in the aftermath of the House probe on the P6.4-billion Valenzuela City shabu shipment.

Faeldon himself led agents of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation and PDEA in seizing the contraband three days after its release from the Manila port.

Only a warehouse caretaker was arrested. Two Taiwanese nationals suspected of smuggling the shabu have not been located up to now. Lapeña was then PDEA chief. He brought some of his men to Customs when he replaced Faeldon.

Aside from Faeldon, other former military officers he recruited to the BOC quit, though President Duterte later reappointed them.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, is urging President Duterte to issue an executive order creating a presidential office on drugs and crime in order to stop the continued smuggling of illegal drugs into the country.

Sotto also aired his displeasure over the public squabble between the PDEA and the BOC over the shabu shipment.

“They should stop finger pointing and investigate this first,” Sotto said over dwIZ.

He said it was unacceptable that the BOC somehow managed to allow the release of the shipment of illegal drugs for a second time.

Sotto aired his disappointment at how a large drug contraband was able to breeze through Customs despite improvements in personnel movement in the agency.

He said it was clear to him that BOC personnel either colluded with the smugglers or simply did not do their jobs.

Sotto said the BOC and PDEA would both be under the presidential office on drugs and crime, based on his proposal.

He argued that the creation of the office would not require a law but only an executive order from Malacañang. – Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez

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