Customs chief may just be covering up incompetence, says Lacson
Sen. Panfilo Lacson is more inclined to believe the customs chief is covering up incompetence in his agency than think the official is in collusion with a drug syndicate that allegedly smuggled P6.8 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) into the country earlier this year.
“Unless disproved by damning evidence, I am not prepared to believe that [Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña] is covering up for the drug syndicate or in cahoots with them,” Lacson, chair of the Senate dangerous drugs committee, said in a statement on Sunday.
He issued the statement amid worsening allegations of collusion between Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials and drug syndicates smuggling shabu into the country through the ports.
On Friday, Deputy Customs Collector Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang said Lapeña knew as early as May that drug syndicates were planning to bring in shabu but took no steps to foil the plan.
Mangaoang said Deputy Customs Commissioner Ricardo Quinto wrote Lapeña on Aug. 6 to inform him that the BOC and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had been working together since May on intelligence that syndicates were going to bring in illegal drugs from Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China.
On Aug. 7, two magnetic lifters that had been found abandoned at Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) were opened and found containing P3.4 billion worth of shabu.
The next day, PDEA agents found four identical magnetic lifters at a warehouse in Cavite province. The devices, which arrived in July, were empty but the PDEA said sniff dogs detected shabu on them.
PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino estimated that the magnetic lifters had contained 1 ton of shabu worth P6.8 billion.
Lapeña said the two magnetic lifters found at MICT had come from Malaysia and the four that were found in Cavite had arrived from Vietnam.
Alert not raised
He told a congressional inquiry that the BOC could have stopped the smuggling had it received timely information from the PDEA.
Mangaoang, however, said the Aug. 6 letter of Quinto proved that Lapeña had been advised about the expected arrival of illegal drugs.
She said Lapeña also did not alert BOC personnel to the possible arrival of illegal drugs from Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong.
Mangaoang said on Sunday that Malaysia and Vietnam were not known sources of shabu.
She said the two countries were likely transshipment points and that the shabu probably came from China or the Golden Triangle, the region at the junction of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
She also cited PDEA findings that the shabu in the magnetic lifters found at MICT was similar in composition to the meth that had found its way into the streets.
“There are several pieces of circumstantial evidence, such as K-9 [dog] reactions, physical, documentary and testimonial evidence supporting [the] PDEA claims,” Mangaoang said.
“Lapeña is wrong not to fully acknowledge the lapses or possible connivance of XIP (X-Ray Inspection Project) personnel in letting at least 1 ton of shabu slip through [MICT],” she added.
Incompetence, not collusion
Lacson, however, said he doubted that Lapeña was in cahoots with any drug syndicate.
He said he was “more inclined to assume that [Lapeña] is covering up” incompetence at the BOC than to believe the customs chief was in collusion with a drug syndicate.
He said, however, that he was inclined to side with the PDEA in the detection of shabu on the magnetic lifters that had been found in Cavite.
Lapeña had said the magnetic lifters had tested negative for drugs and President Rodrigo Duterte had called the PDEA detection “speculation.”
Lacson said: “I will believe the PDEA more if only for one very basic and simple reason: If only magnetic lifters were imported into the country without shabu, why would the importers leave these in Cavite?”
He added: “Shouldn’t these be used or sold to whoever is the supposed [user]? Why did they hurriedly leave these in the warehouse? It’s logical, practical thinking, isn’t it?”
Lacson urged a thorough investigation of the controversy by the Office of the Ombudsman and Malacañang.
“A thorough, honest to goodness investigation at the level of the executive, if not the Ombudsman, is in order,” he said.
Despite the controversy, the President still trusts both Lapeña and Aquino, according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
“He [the President] has not said anything about losing trust [in them], so the presumption is both of them have the trust and confidence of the President,” Panelo told Radyo Inquirer on Sunday.
He said the National Bureau of Investigation was looking into the supposed shabu smuggling and that Malacañang was waiting for the results. —With a report from Jeanette I. Andrade
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