Palace: No evidence against Lapeña
Former Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña cannot be prosecuted for the smuggling of P11 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) through the Port of Manila without evidence, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Sunday.
President Rodrigo Duterte replaced Lapeña last week amid accusations he was covering up incompetence in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) that enabled smugglers to slip illegal drugs into the country through the Port of Manila.
But instead of punishing Lapeña, the President promoted him to director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), a Cabinet position, surprising even Lapeña himself.
The President appointed Rey Leonardo Guerrero, former administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority, to take Lapeña’s place at the BOC.
Lapeña’s promotion angered lawmakers, who were either investigating or following the congressional inquiries into corruption in the BOC.
They said Lapeña should be prosecuted, not promoted, and that the President’s action cast doubt on his administration’s sincerity in the fight against corruption.
In an interview on Radyo Inquirer on Sunday, Panelo said there was no evidence to proceed against Lapeña.
“You cannot just prosecute without evidence. Apart from documentary evidence, you need to have testimonies,” Panelo said.
He added: “You cannot prosecute Lapeña because he was the one who instituted reforms and he [was] the one looking for ways to stop corruption [in the] BOC.”
On Friday, Panelo said the President had been planning to reassign Lapeña to Tesda for some time, but sped it up to “spare him,” as he had come under heavy criticism over the smuggling of shabu through the Manila International Container Port in July.
The smuggling was discovered in August, after the discovery in a Cavite warehouse of four magnetic lifters that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) believed had been used to conceal 1.6 tons of shabu worth P11 billion.
The PDEA, however, had never shown proof of the shabu, claiming only that sniff dogs had detected shabu on the magnetic lifters.
Deputy Customs Collector Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang testified in the Senate inquiry last week that the magnetic lifters contained shabu.
On Sunday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he was open to putting Mangaoang under the government protection temporarily.
“I have not seen the application for [witness protection]. Subject to the Senate President’s approval upon recommendation of Sen. (Richard) Gordon, I may consider her for provisional coverage,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
Panelo said calls for Lapeña’s prosecution were based on speculation.
“That’s the problem with detractors, they are not lawyers. They just speculate on the basis of circumstances—that since the first magnetic lifters had shabu, most likely the others had shabu, too,” he said. —With a report from DJ Yap
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