Two graft cases to distract Lapeña from Cabinet work
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2019 - 12:00am

A graft rap can be enough to cause resignation or removal from the Cabinet. It’s not guilt per se, as innocence is presumed till disproved. Defending oneself eats up so much time and effort – to divert the accused from responsibilities as the President’s alter ego.

That’s the burden of Isidro Lapeña, who faces not one but two graft charges. Both are criminal and administrative, and one consists of two counts. Filed in Nov. 2018 and last week, the cases stem from his past commissionership of Customs. Attending to them can mess up his director-generalship of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Tasked with vocational-technical training, TESDA is vital to employment. It takes in unskilled youths who flunk college entrance tests. Also, skilled, experienced workers in need of upgrade or career change. TESDA enrolments in short- and full-term courses are rising with the intro of free tuition and scholarship stipends. The agency’s main and regional centers produce grads for overseas and domestic jobs.

Last week the NBI charged Lapeña in connection with two shabu smugglings at the Manila container terminal. In Aug. 2018 about 500 kilos of crystal meth worth P4.3 billion were interdicted. Lapeña and key subs supposedly were able to identify the mis-declaring importers, consignees and brokers. Yet they allegedly did not file any criminal complaints.

The NBI noted an earlier sneak-in of four magnetic lifters. Later found in a Cavite storage, those had been emptied of supposed narcotic content. Still sniffer dogs of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency detected shabu. The total six lifters, including the metal cutouts to retrieve the concealed drugs, were identical. Estimated contents: 1.6 tons of shabu worth P11 billion. Again the illegal importers, consignees, and brokers were identified but unindicted, in breach of Customs duties and rules. The “discoverers” of the two shabu-laden lifters were the same “core conspirators” in the four emptied ones.

The Nov. case involved the illegal release of 105 containers of contraband from the Manila piers months prior. In that rap, Lapeña allegedly first ordered impoundment, then allowed release. He charged the smugglers, then permitted processing of their other imports in Cebu.

In all three instances, the NBI said, Lapeña caused damage to the government. If proven, imprisonment is long. Allegedly too he was negligent. The administrative cases can jeopardize Lapeña’s retirement pay at Customs, TESDA, and previous to that, PDEA.

Lapeña had called the NBI rap “unclear” and “unfortunate.” More so since the NBI charged him for doing his job of issuing 22 alerts and indicting 53 suspects, he claimed. The NBI did not get his side or unmasked perpetrators behind the disappeared contraband, he added. Citing his drug-busting record as ex-PDEA chief, supporters maintain his innocence of the drug-related raps.

President Rody Duterte had “promoted” Lapeña to the Cabinet-level TESDA post in Oct. That was after the Senate and House of Reps separately probed the Cavite smuggling, which Lapeña doubted then.

When the first NBI rap came in Nov. the presidential spokesman declared: “No one, friends or political foes alike, is spared in our fight against corruption. The NBI has a mandate to fulfill and its action is proof that the President shall not shield those upon whom a shadow of doubt has been cast.” Yet Lapeña “has the constitutional right to be presumed innocent ... and still enjoys the President’s trust and confidence.”

Lapeña formerly was Davao City police chief when Duterte was mayor.

Duterte often mentions firing appointees “on mere whiff of corruption.” Examples are Duterte’s law school classmate Vitaliano Aguirre as Justice secretary, presidential endorser Ismael Sueno as Interior secretary, and presidential campaign spokesman Peter Laviña as irrigation chief. The three resigned.

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The environment department has heeded one of three suggestions of earth lawyer Tony Oposa to rehabilitate Manila Bay. It reportedly has told water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad Resources to report residential subdivisions and commercial buildings that refuse to build or connect to sewage treatment plants (STPs).

Authorities would do well to identify those violators or clean water and solid waste laws. That way, homebuyers and building lessees can shun the irresponsible. That should include posh developments along Laguna-Cavite highways that spew toilet waste into Laguna de Bay. Flowing down the Pasig River, the coliform end up at the bay-front. Included too are corrupt homeowners’ officers who extort hundred-million pesos before letting the water companies excavate STPs.

Not only bayside barangays but entire Mega Manila must clean up their locales to rehab Manila Bay. All communities that dirty up the Pasig, Pampanga, and other rivers and tributaries are accountable.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

GRAFT AND CORRUPTION ISIDRO LAPEñA
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