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Isidro Lapeña to new Customs chief: Improve counter-intelligence

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
Isidro Lapeña to new Customs chief: Improve counter-intelligence
Lapeña met with Guerrero at his office yesterday to discuss plans for the leadership turnover scheduled on Tuesday. Lapeña said he told Guerrero that his management style was “leadership by example.”
File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — As he prepares for his new job as chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), outgoing Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner Isidro Lapeña is advising his successor Rey Leonardo Guerrero – former Armed Forces chief – to set in place improved counter-intelligence measures as some personnel in the bureau are engaged in illegal activities and are determined to block reforms.

Lapeña met with Guerrero at his office yesterday to discuss plans for the leadership turnover scheduled on Tuesday. Lapeña said he told Guerrero that his management style was “leadership by example.”

“There are people (at the BOC) into illegal activities so he should improve his counter-intelligence effort,” he said when asked what his advice was to Guerrero, outgoing administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority.

“We talked about the immediate things that he has to know first, the turnover and then what have been my plans and programs such that maybe the incoming commissioner would like to do, such as those that led to the good results of our revenue collection and encouraging more personnel to get on board in the reform program,” Lapeña said.

Other military officials had occupied the top BOC post in the past – former Air Force commanding general Ramon Farolan from 1977 to 1986; former Navy commander Guillermo Parayno Jr. from 1992 to 1998; and Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon from July 2016 to August 2017.

Lapeña was Davao City police chief when Duterte was mayor.

Lapeña’s transfer to TESDA came amid the controversy over the entry of 1.6 tons of shabu worth some P11 billion in July through the Manila International Container Port (MICP). Magnetic lifters that allegedly continued the contraband was later found abandoned in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez in Cavite.

After denying that a large drug shipment had slipped past the BOC, Lapeña later admitted there may have been some lapses in the implementation of procedures – hence the need to upgrade equipment particularly x-ray machines.

At a committee hearing in Congress, it was learned that the magnetic lifters supposedly used to hide the drug shipment had been modified to prevent x-ray machines from detecting what’s inside them.

But he said the magnetic lifters issue was not taken up with Guerrero as an investigation on the matter is ongoing.

In his 14-month stay at the BOC, Lapeña said he was able to meet and even surpass the monthly collection targets for eight consecutive months.

Help offered

Also not discussed with Guerrero, he said, was President Duterte’s sacking of all deputy commissioners and department heads.

“Of course that is a transition. We will help him in the transition. It is important he starts well. He asked for my help since he is new in the bureau and that he would consult me every now and then,” he maintained.

He stressed there will be no disruption in services despite the leadership change.

“I am still the commissioner until today and until such time we have taken oath so the papers that would be sent to me, they would be acted (upon), especially the payroll,” he stressed.

He said he is grateful to the President for his new Cabinet job. “I took it as another opportunity, an honor to serve. To serve our people will be an honor and I will always do my best,” he said.

For presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, Lapeña was a victim of a smear campaign perpetrated by drug syndicates and their protectors at the bureau.

“We maintain that drug syndicates, in cahoots with the bureau’s corrupt officials and employees, are behind the ongoing vilification campaign against Mr. Isidro Lapeña,” Panelo said.

“Notwithstanding the nefarious practices which besiege the bureau, Mr. Lapeña managed it untainted and instituted several reform initiatives resulting in a substantial increase in its revenue collection that even surpassed its given targets,” he said.

“Presidential appointments, as we all know, fall under the prerogative of the appointing authority, who happens to be the President,” he added.

Lapeña’s reassignment to TESDA, meanwhile, drew mixed reactions from senators.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Lapeña “will no longer be in the line of fire” with his new posting at TESDA.

“What the BOC needs is a complete overhaul,” Sotto said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said he felt sorry to learn about Lapeña’s relief from BOC. With Lapeña at the helm, the BOC was able to exceed its collection target, according to Lacson.

He said the outgoing BOC chief’s only black mark was the smuggling of some P11 billion worth of shabu “due to the apparent collusion” between “some of his people at the lower echelon of the bureau” and drug syndicates. He said Lapeña’s relief showed Duterte’s zero tolerance for illegal drugs.

Sen. Grace Poe said she could imagine Duterte’s frustration in fighting illegal drugs as she expressed belief Lapeña was clueless about what was happening below him.

Lack of accountability

Sen. Joel Villanueva, however, said Lapeña’s transfer to TESDA appears to indicate a lack of accountability among officials of the administration.

“We will not be able to address our drug problem if we will not curtail the supply of drugs. Tons of drugs entered the country under their watch. They should be made accountable, not promoted,” he said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV questioned Duterte’s motive for transferring Lapeña.

“If he (Lapeña) failed or was in cahoots with those who smuggled the drugs, why will he (Duterte) promote him?” Trillanes said.

He said the only possible explanation was that Duterte was rewarding Lapeña for his “loyalty and guarantee his silence and continued cooperation, much like what he did to former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.”

He said both Faeldon and Lapeña know the “true masterminds” of the huge drug shipments.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan warned that “when incompetence or corruption go unpunished and those linked to irregularities are rewarded with other top-level posts, then both incompetence and corruption will just get worse.”

“It (Lapeña’s promotion) also places in doubt the sincerity and seriousness of the administration in its campaigns against corruption and illegal drugs,” Pangilinan said. –  With  Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

ISIDRO LAPEñA

REY LEONARDO GUERRERO

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