No warrant, no arrest for Customs intelligence officer

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star
No warrant, no arrest for Customs intelligence officer
Former Customs inteligence officer Jimmy Guban is presented by Blue Ribbon chair Sen. Richard Gordon at the hearing yesterday.
Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Former Bureau of Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban will remain in the Senate unless an arrest warrant is issued against him or he is placed under the witness protection program (WPP) of the Department of Justice.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday that Guban is “still under the custody of the Blue Ribbon committee, therefore we will keep him unless a warrant is issued.”

Last Wednesday, President Duterte ordered the arrest of Guban because of his alleged involvement in the reported smuggling of P6.8 billion worth of shabu into the country.

Guban was detained at the Senate after he was cited in contempt for lying during the inquiry of the Blue Ribbon committee on the shabu smuggling incident.

Pending the issuance of a warrant of arrest against Guban, Sotto said he would leave it up to Blue Ribbon chairman Richard Gordon to decide whether or not to turn him over to the authorities.

In a press briefing held yesterday, Gordon said Guban would remain at the Senate, not as a detainee but as a guest of the institution.

“We are a co-equal branch of government. With all due respect to the President, we cannot turn over Mr. Guban right away because we will still continue with our hearings,” said Gordon, with Guban by his side.

“We do follow certain rules and part of that is to make sure that the status of Congress as a co-equal branch is protected,” he added.

Gordon echoed the statement of Sotto that the authorities cannot arrest Guban without a valid warrant from the court.

According to Gordon, Guban is on voluntary confinement at the Senate for his security and safety as a witness in the shabu smuggling case.

Because of what he knows and has disclosed about the incident, Gordon said Guban has been receiving threats and fears for his life.

This is why, Gordon said, he has asked Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to consider admitting Guban and his family under the WPP.

Gordon pointed out that Guban has identified former police Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto as the one who informed him about the drug shipment.

The shipment was reportedly hidden inside magnetic lifters, which were recovered at the Manila International Container Port and at a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.

The four magnetic lifters in Cavite were found empty, prompting speculations that the shabu hidden inside them was now in the streets.

Gordon said that he has crafted a “chairman’s report” on the inquiry, which he has furnished Sotto and Guevarra.

He said that another hearing would be held on Oct. 30.

Gordon said he hopes Acierto would disclose everything that he knows about the shipment because “if he talks, I think there will be officials higher than him (involved).”

Guevarra said yesterday that Guban would be transferred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and will become a state witness in imminent cases involving the P6.8-billion shabu shipment that slipped past the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

He said Guban is considered a “vital witness.”

“Mr. Guban shall be considered for coverage under the witness protection program, upon full compliance with all the requirements under the WPP law,” he said in a statement.

Guevarra said he discussed Guban’s custody with Gordon.

“We have agreed to transfer the custody of Jimmy Guban to the NBI upon termination of the Senate inquiry,” he bared.

Guban testified at the Senate hearing on the alleged shabu shipment that slipped past BOC last July. The House of Representatives has also started its inquiry. 

Guevarra revealed that the NBI would conduct further investigation on the basis of the Senate committee report and “file the appropriate complaints as evidence will warrant.”

The NBI is also conducting its parallel investigation on the P6.8-billion shabu shipment that was allegedly contained in four magnetic lifters seized by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Cavite last August.

Last Wednesday, President Duterte ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to arrest Guban and have him detained at the NBI.

But Guevarra said he would first check if there is legal basis for the NBI to arrest Guban, particularly if there is an outstanding warrant of arrest issued by a court against him or if there could be valid ground for warrantless arrest.

Under Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, the three instances when warrantless arrests may be lawfully effected are: (a) an arrest of a suspect in flagrante delicto (in the very act of); (b) an arrest of a suspect where, based on personal knowledge of the arresting officer, there is probable cause that said suspect was the perpetrator of a crime which had just been committed; and (c) an arrest of a prisoner who has escaped from custody serving final judgment or temporarily confined while case was pending or has escaped during transfer from one confinement to another.

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said it is up to the DOJ whether to file charges against Guban following a recommendation of the Blue Ribbon committee.

Albayalde said Gordon told him to wait for the report of his committee that will be submitted to the DOJ.

“From there, we will take the cue from Senator Gordon on what will be the next step,” he said.

Ex-cop wanted

The House of Representatives committee on dangerous drugs is seeking a former senior police officer suspected to be behind the smuggling into the country in August of shabu worth P6.8 billion.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, committee chairman, asked Albayalde yesterday to leave no stone unturned in locating dismissed Acierto.

“We need to talk to this guy because he is a key figure in the entry here of this huge shipment of shabu. Among the prominent personalities involved, he is the only one who has successfully evaded our inquiry,” Barbers said.

He said he has asked the PNP more than a month ago to search for Acierto, but so far the police organization has not found him.

“I am not satisfied with their effort. I cannot believe that they cannot find one of their own,” he said.

Two months ago, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of Acierto and several PNP high-ranking officers in connection with the questionable licensing of hundreds of assault rifles, many of which were later seized by soldiers from New People’s Army rebels.

Acierto was formerly with the PNP anti-drug special operations task force.

Barbers said Acierto, PDEA deputy director Ismael Fajardo and Customs intelligence officer Guban are the three “prominent figures” behind the P6.8-billion shabu shipment.

He said the three handled the supposed intelligence information on the arrival at the Manila port of two magnetic lifters containing more than 300 kilos of shabu, which Customs and PDEA agents seized on Aug. 7.

He said it was Guban who provided Customs and PDEA details on the shipment, including the number of the container van and the port of arrival, claiming Acierto provided these to him.

What was suspicious is that the alleged cooperation among Guban, Acierto and Fajardo was not reported beforehand to their superiors, he added.

Barbers pointed out that PDEA director general Aaron Aquino and Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña confirmed the prior non-reporting of the supposed collaboration among the three “prominent figures.”

The reporting “was just FYI (for your information) after the fact,” Aquino told congressmen on Wednesday.

Barbers said another suspicious thing is Guban’s testimony that Acierto asked him to look for a “consignee-for-hire” for a second shipment of four magnetic lifters PDEA seized in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez on Aug. 9.

“It looked like they were the importers. You look for a consignee to receive your importation and work for its release from Customs. They knew all the details about the first shipment,” he said.

Guban claimed that recommending consignee SMYD Trading owned by Marina Signapan was the only role he played in connection with the shipment of four metal lifters, for which he supposedly earned a commission ranging from “P10,000 to P15,000.”

But congressmen obtained a broad picture of what the Guban-Acierto group did when Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop asked Guban: “So that means that you had the two magnetic lifters seized and had the four others, whatever they contained, whether the contents were illegal drugs or not, slip past Customs? That was your modus operandi?” 

The Customs intelligence officer answered, “Yes.”

Barbers said drug syndicates themselves usually give their law enforcement contacts tips on some contraband to divert attention away from other more precious shipments. 

PDEA chief Aquino relieved Fajardo from his post and ordered a lifestyle check on him more than a month ago. However, as of Wednesday, there is still no result on the lifestyle check.

As for Guban, Lapeña said administrative charges have been filed against him. With Edu Punay, Jess Diaz, Emmanuel Tupas, Jennifer Rendon

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