Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon has denounced the circulation of a photo on social media which showed him in the company of the owner of the warehouse where P6.5 billion worth of shabu was seized and described it as a smear campaign against him.
The photo, which is making its rounds on the internet, maliciously implies that it was taken before the raid was conducted by Bureau of Customs operatives last May 26, the BoC chief said.
Raw photos of the raid from the Office of the Commissioner indicated that a similar photo was indeed taken on the day the Hongfei Logistics warehouse in Valenzuela was raided.
Faeldon said he reluctantly agreed to the request of Richard Chen, the warehouse owner, to have a photo with him out of courtesy.
“This attempt to link me in the apprehended shabu is outrageous. The photos themselves will prove that I only met Mr. Chen on the day of the raid itself,” Faeldon said. “The people behind this malicious attack only proved that I had crossed big names in the illegal drugs trade. However, this will not slow down our fight against drugs,” he said.
Meanwhile, some P2.7 million worth of smuggled iPhones 7 Plus and charges were intercepted from a Chinese passenger who arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The foreign passenger identified as Wen Congkai from Xiamen, China, failed to produce import documents, including a permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.
As this developed, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said that the “scandalous” P6.4 billion worth of shabu allegedly smuggled at the Bureau of Customs has negated the sacrifices of the Armed Forces and the National Police, some of whose members died during anti-illegal drugs operations.
Abu said the alleged shabu smuggling at the BoC headed by Faeldon undermined President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
“It is scandalous that P6.4 billion worth of imported shabu was mysteriously released by BoC while a great number of AFP and the PNP have sacrificed their lives in their effort to stop the local production and proliferation of illegal drugs,” Abu said.
Abu made the statement even as the House committee on dangerous drugs, chaired by Surigao Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, is set to conduct a congressional probe as to why the large shipment of shabu passed through the express lane of BoC over which Faeldon and his chief of staff have directsupervision.
Abu also cited a recent Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency data which showed that methamphetamine imports into the Philippines rose to 2,495 kilograms in 2016, more than four times the amount in 2015.
“I cannot reconcile how the present BoC leadership can claim to be supportive of President Duterte’s top agenda while the said illegal drugs shipments were released under their watch,” Abu added.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, House special committee on Metro Manila development chairperson, said the government should ensure that the perpetrators are punished.
“We should bring to justice culprits so we can send a strong message to the public about the unrelenting campaign of the President against drugs transporters. Let the ax fall to whoever is guilty without fear or favor,” Castelo said.
Abu also agreed with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez when the latter said the controversy involving Faeldon and lawyer Mandy Therese Anderson, Faeldon’s chief of staff, is all about illegal drugs and not related to the Speaker’s recommendation to promote a BoC officer.
Reps. Romeo Acop of Antipolo City and Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte said the buck must stop with Faeldon.
The two lawmakers said the President could not assume command responsibility in the embarrassing incident that happened at the BoC.
“President Duterte has no inkling about the issue. Clearly there is no command responsibility there,” Acop, the House committee on public order and safety chairperson, said.
“In fact, the incident has insulted his intensified anti-illegal drugs campaign.”
Barbers said “the President is the victim here because what is ironic and strange here is that this shabu smuggling happened right under the very noses of BoC.”
Even as the House gets ready to conduct its own probe, Faeldon and other officials of the BOC got a “dressing down” from the senators for allowing the large shipment of shabu from China which is owned by EMT Trading to pass through the Super Green Lane.
“Either you are incompetent or you are corrupt!” said Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon as he interrupted Senator Panfilo Lacson who was then grilling Custom officials on the Custom’s selectivity system in the use of SGLs.
Gordon aired his concern over the huge shipment of shabu, saying that the government has spent P90 million in its bloody war against illegal drugs and the police are fighting suspected drug personalities.
“How did it plass through the Green Lane?” Gordon asked Customs officials.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the passage of the contrabands through the Green Lane showed there was a deliberate attempt to input the parameters in order to allow the “green lane privilege” for the said shipments.
“Was this deliberate or sadyang gago lang?” Drilon asked Faeldon, a former Magdalo soldier. who led a failed coup against the administration of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo.
Drilon also quizzed Faeldon if he will stick with his earlier pronouncement that he takes full responsibility for every amount of shabu that will enter the country.
Faeldon replied: “All those shabu we apprehended and failed, that’s my responsibility.”
Sen. Bam Aquino also chided the BOC for making it easy for big-time smugglers to bring in contrabands into the country while burdening overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with strict requirements in the entry of balikbayan boxes.
“How many more contrabands and drugs passed the SGLs?” asked Aquino.
Customs officials said the SGLs were put up to help prevent port congestion and facilitate transaction with exporters and importers, and allow the fast tracking of shipments based on the discretion of the BOC.
They added that products on the green lane will no longer pass through inspection and document verification.
The BOC officials explained that as part of their selectivity system, products imported to the country pass through four lanes which included the SGLs. Another is the blue lane which allows products to pass through with minimal inspection. These will only undergo a cross auditing by the BOC as these came from reputable companies.
The other lanes are the yellow lane wherein products will go through document verification, and the red lane where
products will go through two kinds of inspection-- Intrusive inspection, or the products will be opened and checked; and X-Ray inspection.
Lacson and Drilon repeatedly confronted Faeldon and other Custom officials why EMT Trading was able to put the shipment on the BOC’s green lane.
“How did EMT manage to access the green lane? This is for Customs to explain to us why. First, it’s already red flag since it came from China. That’s included in your criteria, selectivity system. If from China, it’s automatic red,, said Lacson, who is also the chair of the senate committee on public order and illegal drugs.
“And then (for) first time importation, it’s also automatic red. So that’s two-- strike two already. So why in the green (lane)?” he said.
Lacson also pressed BOC officials why EMT Trading was still allowed to import even after its firm had been determined to have been behind the more than 600 kilograms of shabu worth over P6 billion confiscated during operations in warehouses in Valenzuela in May.
The said shipment was misdeclared as kitchenware. He added that out of the 524 importations of EMT Trading from March 31 to May 29, a total of 484 went through the green lane where shipments were not required to undergo inspection.
Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala explained that Larribert Hilario, chief of the risk management office, failed to encode information that would have classified EMT to go through the proper lane.
“He was not able to update the list of new importers based on the parameter, it will either go to yellow, red or green,” he said.
Lacson asked on whereabouts of Hilario, but Faeldon said they can longer locate him after he was suspended last May 26.
But Lacson said he has information that Hilario is still reporting to the BOC.
“Where is Hilario? I have information inside Customs that he is still reporting there. Where is the suspension order?” he asked Faeldon.
Faeldon, however, insisted that Hilario had been suspended by the bureau.
“As soon as the information came up, I called him in my office. I told him right in his face, ‘Atty. Hilario, I am suspending you effective today, May 30, because I am going to conduct an investigation on how you have worked in your office. I even told him to find a good lawyer because we have a strong case indicating that he has neglected his duty. That is how I dealt with it,” Faeldon said. But Faeldon admitted that he did not send an official notice to Hilario, confirming Lacson’s information that the Customs officer was still reporting to the BoC.
Faeldon said a forensics investigation team of the BoC also discovered that Hilario tried to tweak the system on July 10 to make it appear that he inputted the necessary information in the system.
“Clearly there was an attempt to cover up that he failed to put these paremeters prior to the shipments,” Faeldon said.
Gordon, meanwhile, sought the issuance of a hold departure order against Richard Tan or Chen, the man allegedly responsible for the shipment of the contraband.
Mark Ruben Taguba II, who was the “broker,” claimed Tan is the owner of Hongfei Philippines which shipped the shabu from China through a “consignee-for-hire” identified as EMT Trading.
Taguba said that he dealt with a certain Kenneth Dong whom he met through a friend.
Dong, who has already left for Chengdu, China on July 28, is supposedly Tan’s middleman.
Taguba said he was not sure whether Tan was the owner of the shipment. He said they tapped EMT Trading for a “royalty fee.”
The National Narcotics Control Commission of China (NNCC), meanwhile, identified suspects “Chen” and “Li”as the ones behind the shipment.
Investigation revealed that they concealed the drugs in cylindrical roller printers which the BOC allegedly cleared.
EMT Trading proprietor Eirene Mae Tatad said they had no knowledge that the shipment contained shabu.
Meanwhile, in the same hearing, Faeldon said he has requested President Rodrigo Duterte to create an ad hoc committee to conduct a full-blown investigation on the case.
He said he really wants the case investigated up to the last detail.
“I want the truth to come out,” said Faledon who said that creating a “third-party and credible” organization will also dismiss speculations on the results of the BOC’s own probe.
He also wrote to the World Customs Organization (WCO) to determine issues on the “management system and smuggling.”
“They have already responded to me and they have already assigned [someone] in charge in the enforcement of all Customs fraud.
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