DOJ chief keeps hands off corruption complaint vs Lapeña
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday distanced himself from a graft complaint brought by the National Bureau of Investigation against former Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, saying the disposition of the case was up to state prosecutors.
“I will not preempt the state prosecutors who will look at the complaint,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
He said the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Ombudsman had an agreement that graft and corruption cases involving highly paid government officials would be endorsed to the Ombudsman.
Loss of P69-M tile shipment
The NBI brought a graft complaint against Lapeña in the DOJ on Monday over the loss in March of a shipment of ceramic tiles worth P69 million.
The NBI also asked the DOJ to bring administrative charges against Lapeña for gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct over the disappearance of the shipment from the Port of Manila.
The shipment arrived in 105 containers, which the NBI said the port operator, Asian Terminals Inc. (ATI), released in two batches after Lapeña failed to put them under electronic alert.
Charges have been filed against the ATI employees, importers and customs brokers involved in the shipment.
In a statement on Tuesday, Lapeña decried the NBI investigation, which he said was concluded without hearing his side.
“What is more unfortunate is that the NBI did not unmask the real people behind the scheme,” he said.
Lapeña defended the “manual alert orders” he issued for the shipment, claiming the 105 containers would not have been discovered without these.
He said the illegal scheme probably had been going on even before he came to the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and that it was discovered on his watch.
“It is unclear to me why [the NBI would] find negligence on my part when I was the one who [placed the containers under alert],” Lapeña said.
He said he would defer to the DOJ in the disposition of the case, but maintained that he “did the right thing.”
Lapeña is now director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), where President Rodrigo Duterte assigned him last month amid a scandal involving the smuggling of 1.6 tons of “shabu” (crystal meth) into the country through the Port of Manila.
The illegal drug was worth P11 billion and it got out of the port allegedly with the connivance of BOC employees, policemen and agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
To stamp out corruption in the BOC, President put it under temporary military control and appointed Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to replace Lapeña at the agency.
But his appointment of Lapeña to Tesda has drawn criticism from lawmakers, who want him to punish the former police official instead.
Rescind Tesda appointment
On Tuesday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the graft case brought against Lapeña should prompt the President to rescind the appointment of the former customs chief to Tesda.
“Tesda does not deserve Lapeña, more so now that the NBI has filed a criminal complaint [against him],” Lagman told reporters.
“Based on his record in the Bureau of Customs, why recycle him to an agency concerned with education? It does not follow,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, said Lapeña had the right to be presumed innocent and until proven otherwise, he continued to enjoy the trust and confidence of the President. —Reports from Jerome Aning, Dexter Cabalza, Marlon Ramos and Christine O. Avendaño
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