Troops tricked to free boat in smuggling
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Soldiers guarding one of four vessels carrying smuggled rice were tricked into allowing the vessel to leave the city port for Sulu province, according to results of a military investigation.
ML Ayang, one of four boats that were carrying smuggled rice, was able to leave the city port on Dec. 16, shortly after it and three other vessels were intercepted by the Philippine Navy for carrying contraband.
Investigators, according to Col. Andrelino Colina, head of Task Force Zamboanga (a police-military force dealing with crimes in the city), said five soldiers guarding the apprehended vessels here were hoodwinked into releasing ML Ayang.
On Dec. 16, Colina said, unidentified men on board a boat arrived at the city port, introduced themselves as Customs officials and told the soldiers to release ML Ayang.
According to Colina, quoting investigation results, when the soldiers refused, one of the unidentified men made a phone call to their supposed boss at the Customs bureau and gave the phone to one of the soldiers.
“The man who spoke with my officer on the phone claimed the papers were OK. That led to the boat sailing out of the port,” Colina said.
“They were tricked into releasing the boat,” he said.
ML Ayang was later intercepted again as it was unloading its rice cargo in Sulu. It was brought back to the city, escorted by the Navy.
No training on smuggling
Colina defended the five soldiers, although, he said, they had been restricted to the barracks as the investigation continued. He said the soldiers had not been trained properly on handling cases of smuggling.
He pinned the blame on the Bureau of Customs here, which had not deployed anyone to the area where the vessels were being held.
“They could have deployed one of their policemen,” Colina said. He said the area where the vessels were being held was very near a Customs office.
Miguel Saquisami, Customs district collector here, insisted that ML Ayang and its crew “escaped.”
Not sleeping on job
Saquisami said he did not want to speak further about the controversy and that there should be “no pinpointing.”
“We are not sleeping on the job, but the number of our Customs policemen is limited. I hope you can understand us,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the Naval Forces Western Mindanao was coordinating with the Bureau of Customs in the investigation. Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
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