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NBI raps PDEA, BOC chiefs

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 05:46 AM February 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed a graft complaint against the heads of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in connection with the recovery of more than P1 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) that was auctioned off as tapioca starch in 2019.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson exposed the irregularity in a privilege speech on May 29, 2019.

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Named respondents in the complaint filed by the NBI Task Force Against Illegal Drugs in the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday were PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero and several of their subordinates.

Also charged with violations of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees, were Villanueva’s predecessor, Aaron Aquino, and BOC Deputy Commissioner Raniel Ramiro.

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Aquino is currently the president and chief executive officer of Clark International Airport Corp.

The NBI included PDEA agents Daniel Martinez, Mark Erick Espiritu and Lester Matobago, and nine private individuals in its complaint.

Meant to lure drug dealers

It was not clear why the task force brought the complaint to the DOJ instead of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said he would immediately create a panel of DOJ prosecutors to conduct a preliminary investigation into the complaint.

The case stemmed from the discovery of three shipping containers of 146 kilos of shabu stuffed in aluminum pallets that its consignee declared as tapioca starch in May 2019, or four months after the shipment entered the country.

In his privilege speech, Lacson questioned the propriety of the PDEA and BOC decision to auction off three shipping containers filled with the contraband supposedly to lure the individuals behind the drug shipment.

Aquino, then the PDEA chief, admitted the agency already knew that the containers had illegal drugs but opted to offer their sale, supposedly to track down the individuals behind the illegal importation.

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The PDEA earlier said the contraband was found abandoned at the Manila International Container Terminal in March 2019, three months after it was shipped from Cambodia.

A private company, which bought the shipment, eventually reported to authorities that illegal drugs were concealed in the containers.

Lacson, a former Philippine National Police chief, said the information provided to the public by the PDEA and the BOC on the recovery of the shabu shipment was questionable.

‘Controlled delivery’

He did not believe the claim of PDEA and BOC officials that they sent out the shipment using the “controlled delivery” tactic.

“Controlled delivery my foot!” a visibly incensed Lacson told the Senate.

“The (BOC) averred that it deliberately placed the shipment containing illegal drugs for auction, which was later bid out and won by Goldwin Commercial,” he said.

“Let’s assume for a while that we are buying their story. Is the BOC legally allowed to subject prohibited goods to public sale or auction?” he added.

The senator pointed out that Section 1139 of RA 10863, or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, explicitly states that “public auction is not one of the prescribed means of disposing prohibited goods.”

“In this case, prohibited goods, including shabu … should be destroyed and, therefore, should not have been offered for sale in a public auction,” Lacson said.

The PDEA on Wednesday said it reserved its right to avail itself of legal remedies pertaining to the complaint.

“Although the PDEA has yet to receive a copy of the NBI report, the agency is ready to answer every allegation,” the agency’s spokesperson, Derrick Arnold Carreon, said in a statement.“PDEA officials and agents who were implicated in the investigation are ready to clear their names in the proper forum,” he said.

Carreon said Villanueva took over the PDEA only on May 20 last year from his previous post as its director for Northern Mindanao, and “had nothing to do with the controlled delivery operation.”

—With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade
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TAGS: BOC, graft complaint, NBI, Panfilo Lacson, PDEA
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