House committees clear Lapena of drug smuggling
MANILA, Philippines – Two House of Representatives committees on Wednesday did not find former Bureau of Customs (BoC) Chief Isidro Lapeña liable in connection with the entry of billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs shipments to the country last year.
The committee on dangerous drugs and good government and public accountability unanimously approved their committee report into their inquiry initiated by Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo’s House Resolution No. 2068 which looked into the “continued inability of the BOC to prevent large-scale smuggling of illegal drugs into the country.”
The committee report did not recommend sanctions or charges against Lapeña, who has since been appointed Technical Education and Skill Development Authority (TESDA) Director General, but said former Customs intelligence officers Jimmy Guban, former police Sr. Supt. Eduardo Acierto and former Dep. Director Ismael Fajardo should be investigated and charged.
Appropriate charges should also be filed against Dolores Domingo, Katrina Cuasay, Marina Signapan and Atty. Vener Baquiran for allegedly violating BOC’s policy against “sectioning,” according to the report.
Charges should also be filed against owners of the vehicles used to enter a warehouse in Cavite where magnetic lifters were found, the report said.
With regard to the two magnetic lifters found in the Manila International Container Port (MICP), the panels said Vedasto Baraquel, Guban, Fajardo and Acierto violated Sec. 4 of Republic Act No. 9165, as amended.
The report also urged the leave of absence or replacement of the BOC officials involved or suspected to have been involved in the smuggling and other corruption issues.
The panels also ruled that there is a need to “gather direct evidence as to the existence of illicit drugs on the four magnetic lifters.”
As early as November 2018, Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairperson of the House committee on dangerous drugs, already cleared Lapeña.
“Personally, wala akong nakikitang kinalaman ni Commissioner Lapeña dyan sa pagpapalusot ng mga ilegal na shipments o kargamento,” he said in a press briefing.
Even in the aspect of “command responsibility,” Barbers expressed doubts that President Rodrigo Duterte’s trusted former military man would face any accountability.
The committees also recommended the following reforms in the Bureau:
– Issuance of standard operating procedure on the conduct of x-ray for unfamiliar material
– Modernization of the BOC x-ray machines by supporting the BOC budget proposal of P4.8 billion to procure the said x-ray machines;
– Implementation of a “no x-ray, no entry policy” (upon Rep. Arnolfo Teves’ suggestion);
– BOC x-ray inspectors should undergo proper training by NUCHTECH company, among others;
– Effective monitoring of the performance of BOC personnel particularly in the physical inspection or examination of cargo shipment, law enforcement and operations;
– Installation of sufficient number of working non-intrusive cargo inspection equipment, such as x-ray machines, to be placed in all BOC ports nationwide;
– Installation of CCTV cameras in appropriate sites in ports and offices;
– Use of body camera for Customs inspectors, agents and/or operatives;
– Allowing a third party body to randomly inspect any container at any time in the BOC (proposed by Teves)
– Implementation of a “one strike policy” for erring or unscrupulous officers of the BOC (upon the suggestion of Rep. Rosanna Vergara).
On Aug. 8, 2018, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) discovered four empty magnetic lifters inside a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.
PDEA chief Aaron Aquino insisted that the magnetic lifters contained illegal drugs, a conclusion that Lapeña initially dismissed.
Lapeña later said he believed that the magnetic lifters contained shabu.
Following the controversy, Duterte appointed Lapeña as Tesda chief. / gsg
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