Senate investigates ₱6.4-billion drug-smuggling attempt in Customs Bureau

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Manila Philippines, (July 31)  Lawmakers on Monday began an investigation into the alleged involvement of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in a shipment of shabu from China worth P6.4 billion (US$ 126 million).

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, headed by Senator Richard Gordon is looking into possible “malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance of the officials and employees of the Bureau of Customs,” it said.

Uproar over the 500-kilogram shipment of shabu or metamphetamine hydrochloride was triggered when members of the BOC and National Bureau of Investigation raided a warehouse in Valenzuela City on May 26, 2017 and discovered the contraband, customs officials at the senate hearing recounted.

“I take full responsibility of all drugs apprehended,” BOC Commissioner Capt. Nicanor Faeldon told the senate committee.

In a separate statement on Monday, Faeldon criticized what he said was a “malicious attack” to link him to the illegal drugs trade as images of him together with Richard Chen, owner of the Hongfei Logistics warehouse in Valenzuela where the drugs were discovered, circulated on social media. The social media post implied some kind of  “outrageous” collusion between customs officials and the warehouse, the embattled commissioner said.

“This attempt to link me in the apprehended (sic) shabu is outrageous. The photos themselves will prove that I only met Mr. Chen on the day of the raid itself,” Faeldon said in the statement, adding that he “reluctantly agreed” to Chen’s request for a photo.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Dangerous Drugs is set to hold its own hearing on August 1, Tuesday on the BOC and its links to the multi-billion peso shabu shipment.

BOC: Shabu shipment declared as ‘kitchenware’

The shabu, consigned to a company by the name of EMT Trading, was declared as kitchenware, Neil Estrella, head of the BOC’s Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service, told the Senate hearing Monday.

He added that the shabu was discovered in 605 bags stuffed into five cylinders. The BOC’s express lane system, known as its “green lane,” facilitated the entry of the contraband on May 23, 2017. Items that go through the green lane do not need any verification and inspection, the senate was told.

The senate hearing on the shabu shipment comes a day after a bloody crackdown by police officials in Ozamiz City of suspected narcopolitician Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, Sr. and members of his family and staff on Sunday. The encounter led to 15 deaths including that of the mayor. His daughter, the Vice Mayor Nova Parojinog, whose home was also included in a search warrant, was flown from Ozamiz City to Manila on Monday for inquest proceedings.

Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa on Monday in a news briefing warned of more operations against drug lords, as he urged them to surrender. The country’s war on drugs has entered its second year.

Valenzuela City First District Representative Wes Gatchalian, who was also invited to the Senate hearing, expressed alarm at how the BOC allowed the shabu to pass through the express lane, even when the cargo exceeded weight limits for the lane.

In a statement on July 28, Gatchalian noted that the five cylinders were metal insulators used for printing presses. He said the cylinders, which usually weighed just 100 kilos each, weighed twice as much.

In Monday’s hearing, Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of the committee, pointed out to authorities the haste with which BOC processed the importation papers for this shipment filed by EMT Trading in May 2017.

Lawmaker: BOC in cahoots with drug syndicates

In a separate statement on July 29, Representative Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs said it was clear that screening processes in the BOC are lax and that customs officials may be in cahoots with illegal drug syndicates.

“This is alarming. The chilling implication is that some Customs personnel, and even officers, could be in collusion with illegal drug syndicates with billions in their pockets to buy protection from corrupt officials,” Barbers said in the statement.

“How thorough or lax was the screening process? Who are the people responsible? Who signed or approved the release of the illegal drug shipment,” the house committee chairman added.

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