Customs chief says drug rings behind smear drive
Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña on Tuesday claimed that drug syndicates were pitting his agency and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) against each other in an attempt to undermine the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Speaking to reporters about the supposed smuggling of P6.8 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) through the Port of Manila under the nose of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), Lapeña said he and Director General Aaron Aquino, the PDEA chief, “may have been misled” by drug syndicates.
“The whole thing appears to be scripted. A script concocted by the same drug syndicates. A script that perhaps some actors of the syndicate are still following to this day. A staged drama to put the PDEA and BOC on a bitter war, while the enemy regroups,” said Lapeña, who just came from a visit to his mother in the United States.
If the syndicates can conceal their contraband from such technologies as X-ray, surely they are “experts in media spinning and propaganda,” he said.
“For all we know, this bickering is already part of their machinations,” he added.
Customs Deputy Collector Lourdes Mangaoang has been raising suspicion since last week that Lapeña may be involved in covering up the smuggling of illegal drugs through the ports.
Aquino has said Lapeña should be held accountable if the recent smuggling of P6.8 billion worth of shabu through Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) could be proven.
The PDEA released data over the weekend that showed the large amounts of shabu seized across the country had the same “synthetic impurities” and “production method” as the illegal drug intercepted at MICT in August.
Two magnetic lifters that had been shipped from Malaysia were found abandoned at MICT and opened by customs authorities on Aug. 7.
The magnetic lifters contained shabu worth P3.4 billion.
On Aug. 8, PDEA agents found four empty magnetic lifters in a warehouse in Cavite province.
The PDEA said its sniff dogs detected shabu on the magnetic lifters.
Aquino estimated that the magnetic lifters had contained 1.6 tons of shabu worth P6.8 billion.
Lapeña asked how he could have been part of the cover-up when it was in fact the BOC that gave the PDEA information about the four magnetic lifters found in Cavite.
He said his successor at the PDEA “burned the entire follow-up operations and backtracking efforts” when he held a news conference on Aug. 10 on the discovery of the magnetic lifters.
More shipments expected
According to Lapeña, the warehouse owner told the BOC that the lessee had said more shipments were expected to arrive.
“It was agreed that the matter will be put under wraps. I and the chief of the Philippine National Police (Director General Oscar Albayalde) agreed to this. PDEA Calabarzon Regional Director (Adrian Alvariño) informed Aquino and waited for the approval of the said recommendation. We were surprised he held a press conference immediately after,” Lapeña said.
It was in that briefing that Aquino said a ton of shabu worth P6.8 billion had reached the streets.
When asked why Aquino did that, Lapeña said, without elaborating, “he must have a reason for that.”
Lapeña said the reforms that he had introduced at the BOC, which were hurting not only the drug syndicates but also the traders, could be the reason for the “well-funded and coordinated attack” against him.
He urged Aquino not to fall for the strategy and asked the PDEA chief to “refrain from issuing propaganda-like statements that fuel distrust in [the] government.”
There was no immediate comment from Aquino on Tuesday.
Lapeña lamented that the blame game between the BOC and the PDEA was diverting the focus from the drug syndicates.
“Isn’t it that we should be focused on pinning them down?” he asked, adding that President Duterte had disclosed the identities of government officials involved in the illegal drug trade.
“This is where we should drive our focus and energies,” Lapeña said.
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