All personnel on floating status as BOC put under military control
President Rodrigo Duterte has put the corruption-plagued Bureau of Customs (BOC) temporarily under military control amid a scandal after two huge shipments of “shabu” (crystal meth) worth P11 billion reportedly slipped through the Port of Manila.
The President announced his decision in an expletive-laden speech in Davao City late on Sunday before an audience that included visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
He said there were “lawless elements” at the BOC, the second largest government revenue collection center, that forced him to put the agency under military control.
“I’d like to put on notice everybody at the Bureau of Customs, they are all on floating status,” the President said.
“They will be replaced, all of them by military men. It will be a takeover of the armed forces in the operations of the Bureau of Customs while we are sorting out how to effectively meet the challenge of corruption in this country,” he said.
The President said he would issue a memorandum ordering all BOC employees to report to Malacañang and calling on the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy and Philippine Army to send technical groups to take over operations at the BOC.
From now on, he said, three signatures of military officials will be required for cargo to be released from the ports.
“There will be about three signatures before a container will eventually be declared out of customs control. There will be about three, six eyes there. They must sign that it could be a Navy or a Coast Guard, something like that,” the President said.
“All customs police are on floating status,” he added. “Customs intelligence, you will all report to Malacañang. I’m ordering everybody to report to my office.”
The President, however, said he was not firing the BOC employees because they had security of tenure under civil service laws.
“It’s a day-to-day reality, almost all of them there, in one way or another, have been charged with corruption. But we can’t dismiss [them] because we have to be lawfully correct. So we will do this slowly. But with this kind of games that they are playing, dirty games, I am forced to ask the [military] to take over,” he said.
On Monday, Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, ordered the deployment of soldiers to the BOC on the request of the new customs chief, Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
Guerrero is Galvez’s predecessor at the AFP.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson for the AFP, said in a statement that the military was answering the President’s call and supporting Guerrero by providing the personnel he needed to accomplish his mission.
Guerrero was assigned to take over the helm at the BOC last week after the President transferred the bureau’s chief, Isidro Lapeña, to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) amid a growing scandal over the discovery that P11 billion worth of shabu slipped into the country through Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) in July.
The smuggling was discovered by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Aug. 8 when it recovered four magnetic lifters in a warehouse in Cavite province on which sniff dogs detected drugs.
The lifters were the same type as two other magnetic lifters found abandoned at MICT.
The lifters were opened on Aug. 7 and found to be containing shabu worth P4.3 billion.
At first, the shabu believed to have been removed from the magnetic lifters found in Cavite was estimated at 1 ton, costing P6.8 billion.
But after double-checking the weight of the lifters, the PDEA concluded last week that the shabu weighed 1.6 tons, costing P11 billion.
After weeks of refusing to acknowledge the possibility that illegal drugs had been smuggled into the country, Lapeña last week acknowledged that the magnetic lifters could have contained shabu.
The President, who at first dismissed the PDEA drug angle as speculation, removed Lapeña from the BOC but gave him the Cabinet-ranked Tesda job, angering lawmakers who wanted the former police official punished, not rewarded.
‘Men of integrity’
The President, however, continued to defend Lapeña and his predecessor at the BOC, Nicanor Faeldon, as “men of integrity” who had been dragged down by corruption that was deeply entrenched in the bureau.
“There is nothing wrong with the men I have chosen. They are men of integrity, but the Philippine system allows corruption,” Mr. Duterte said.
“There is a continuous play of corruption in the lower echelons. No matter who you put there, they will be undercut because of money,” he added. —With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Jeannette I. Andrade and AP
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