Aquino won’t stand by his pal–Palace
“Let the proceeding take its course.”
This was Malacañang’s reaction yesterday to the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) Intelligence Group or IG’s recommendation that smuggling charges be filed against a friend of President Aquino and her business partners.
Former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres reportedly took BOC personnel by surprise when she showed up at the IG office on Aug. 20 to do “business,” seeking the release of over P100 million worth of smuggled sugar from Thailand that had been seized by the agency.
Torres—who said that she was now a sugar planter in Tarlac, the President’s province—reportedly dropped the name of Mr. Aquino during the visit. She left empty-handed, however.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters if the BOC-IG had found irregularities, “so let them take its course… there is a procedure.”
“We have never interfered in any [case]. We have always respected the independence of the judiciary in this regard,” Lacierda added.
In a past TV interview, President Aquino appeared to cut his ties to Torres, saying “if you do something that strays from my path, then we are not friends.”
Mr. Aquino had added: “Smuggling definitely is not OK; influence peddling is not OK. If our friendship is based on her ability to use me, therefore, we are not friends.”
Torres, in a phone interview, had admitted to the Inquirer she dropped by the IG office to seek the release of the seized shipments.
Initially she said the smuggled items belonged to her friend Philip Sy, but later admitted that they both owned the shipments.
In a report, however, customs investigator Aris de Guzman said that “while it is obvious that Virginia Torres may have tried to use her reputation as a close friend of the President, albeit without expressing the same verbally, this office cannot readily charge her on such account considering that nothing appears in our laws and jurisprudence which punishes the act of influence peddling by a private person.”
Customs Deputy Commissioner for the IG Jessie Dellosa had signed a report saying that Torres, Sy and another partner, Jenny Munar-Yu, had attempted to facilitate the release of the sugar shipments.
It added that Torres and her associates “may have a hand in the smuggling of the apprehended sugar shipments.”
The report said Munar-Yu facilitated the process of seeing the shipments through the BOC, a Department of Finance-attached agency.
Dellosa said it would be up to the Customs Revenue Collection and Monitoring Group to decide whether to forward their recommendation to the Department of Justice.
The shipments Torres allegedly tried to recover were misdeclared as general merchandise. They also were not covered by import permits from the Sugar Regulatory Administration, which is under the Department of Agriculture.
Sought for comment, Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina said the IG’s recommendation to prosecute Torres and her partners was “being studied by the bureau’s Run After the Smugglers” group.