Business as usual at BOC despite Duterte-ordered purge
It’s business as usual at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) a day after President Duterte announced a sweeping purge of the agency’s top officials, including Commissioner Isidro Lapeña.
With no official written order yet from Malacañang, the officials and department heads ordered removed by Mr. Duterte on Thursday still reported to their respective offices on Friday.
According to customs spokesperson Dino Austria, the public can expect the revamp to be implemented once Maritime Industry Authority head Rey Leonardo Guerrero is sworn in as Lapeña’s successor.
During the Philippine Coast Guard’s anniversary on Thursday, Mr. Duterte announced Guerrero’s reassignment to the BOC, which came at a time when the bureau was embroiled in yet another “shabu” (crystal meth) smuggling scandal.
Over the past two months, Lapeña has been insisting that no shabu shipment in four magnetic lifters had slipped through the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT), disputing claims by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) that the lifters contained about 1.6 tons of shabu worth P11 billion.
On Wednesday, Lapeña conceded that indeed the drugs could have been concealed in the lifters, whose hollow portions were found opened and emptied of whatever contraband they had contained.
While Mr. Duterte promoted Lapeña to a Cabinet post as the new head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, he booted out other customs officials.
“Everyone, out. To the last man, out. The commissioners are out, the department heads, out,” he said on Thursday.
But since some departments in the bureau are headed by career personnel, Austria noted that “civil service rules will be upheld” in their case.
With Lapeña out of the BOC, Customs Deputy Collector Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, who alleged that her boss could be part of a cover-up of the shabu smuggling, expressed relief that the bureau could now start a “new chapter.”
She noted that while it was not her objective to remove Lapeña from office, she knew that this was going to be the consequence of her speaking out.
“I don’t really care where he would end up. He was damaging the institution and the customs personnel,” Mangaoang said on Friday.
She expressed hope that Guerrero, the third ex-military officer to be placed by Mr. Duterte as customs chief, would be able to “put in place the right people who are sincere, and have the skills and knowledge to run the bureau” to prevent drug smuggling.
Last year, P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China slipped through the Port of Manila. Authorities were able to seize that drug shipment, unlike the alleged P11-billion shabu shipment this year, which the PDEA believes is already flooding the streets.
In August, two magnetic lifters abandoned at MICT were found to contain 355 kilos of shabu worth P4.3 billion.
Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) spokesperson Manuelito Luna said that even if Lapeña no longer headed the BOC, the agency would still continue its probe on the shabu smuggling.
“PACC is not ousted of jurisdiction just because [Lapeña] was sacked. Besides, some of the BOC officials relieved by the President may have facilitated the smuggling and deserve to be charged for corruption and other crimes, as well as held administratively liable,” Luna said.
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