Customs whistleblower cries ‘shabu’ cargo cover-up
A senior Bureau of Customs (BOC) official on Friday alleged that Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña could be involved in a cover-up of the smuggling of an estimated P6.8 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) through the port of Manila.
Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, deputy collector for passenger service at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, told the Inquirer that on Aug. 13, she showed Lapeña copies of X-ray images of the shipping containers which held four magnetic lifters that a few days earlier the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) found in Cavite province and determined to have been used to smuggle shabu.
The BOC had seized two magnetic lifters that contained an estimated P3.4 billion worth of shabu earlier that month.
That drug seizure was quickly overshadowed days later by PDEA’s discovery of the four identical magnetic lifters, consigned to SMYD Trading and believed to have contained an estimated P6.8-billion worth of shabu.
Mangaoang said she was surprised that instead of asking her what they could do or telling her that he would initiate an investigation, Lapeña instead asked her where she got the images and who else had copies.
She said she saw on television a day later customs officials telling a House hearing on the shabu smuggling that there were no illegal drugs inside the magnetic lifters, showing lawmkers dark X-ray images of the device.
“Despite the fact that I told Lapeña that there was something in them … the following day at the hearing they said other things and they showed dark images (of the lifters),” she said.
“For you to say that there was nothing inside, that is cover-up,” she said. “They committed perjury.”
Customs spokesperson Erastus Dino Austria downplayed Mangaoang’s allegations, saying the bureau had submitted to both the Senate and the House all 67 X-ray images related to the magnetic lifters.
“I don’t understand where she’s coming from. All of the slides were already submitted months ago. I don’t know what her basis is,” Austria told the Inquirer.
Mangaoang, who headed the X-ray operations of the BOC for five years until 2013, said she advised Lapeña to remove the X-ray operator, who was not trained to handle the machine, which could capture images through 11 inches of steel.
Mangaoang said the operator also did not follow standard operating procedures, which required physical inspection of hollow objects, in this case, the 1.5-inch-thick steel lifters.
Mangaoang told the Inquirer that by subtracting the weight of the shipping containers and the four magnetic lifters from the total weight of the shipment, it was determined that about 1,600 kilograms of shabu had slipped through Customs.
Without directly reacting to Mangaoang’s allegations, Lapeña said in a statement on Friday that some “parties seem to be discrediting whatever actions we have done and continue to do regarding the incident and even ignore the facts of the case.”
“Our internal cleansing and anticorruption efforts must be hurting people from within and outside the organization that I feel there is a concerted effort to discredit the reforms we are doing,” Lapeña said.
Aquino has blamed erring BOC personnel who may have allowed the release of the shipment, and in a radio interview on Thursday indicated that Lapeña’s also was liable.
“If there are misdeeds, of course the officers would be held accountable for the actions of their subordinates,” Aquino said.
In his statement on Friday, after months of tiptoeing around allegations of his lapses in the shabu smuggling, Lapeña turned the tables on Aquino, saying the BOC could have prevented the alleged drug shipment if it weren’t for Aquino’s “obvious failure of intelligence or lack of coordination.”
Lapeña said Aquino should “examine himself” as the PDEA chief “responsible for the efficient and effective law enforcement of all the provisions on any dangerous drugs.”
Lapeña pointed out that under President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 15, which created the Interagency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs led by Aquino, all government agencies tasked to address the drug problem should work in an “integrated and synchronized manner.”
“Had PDEA, with Aquino at the helm, only tried to observe and implement what is provided in EO 15 at the time they were conducting their operations on Vecaba and SMYD, this problem [could have] been avoided,” he said.
He stressed that Aquino should not be pointing fingers at the BOC “when there is obvious failure of intelligence or lack of coordination among member agencies under [Aquino’s] leadership.” —WITH REPORTS FROM JOVIC YEE AND OLIVER TEVES
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