Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña on Tuesday denied a Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency claim that four magnetic lifters found in Cavite contained methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, saying they tested negative for the drug.
Testifying before the House committee on dangerous drugs, Lapeña said a team of chemists from the Philippine National Police Scene of Crime Operations Office, the PDEA and the Bureau of Customs conducted swab tests on the lifters and found no trace of shabu.
On Friday, PDEA chief Aaron Aquino said the lifters had contained one ton of shabu worth P6.8 billion that has slipped past Customs. He said the magnetic lifters were similar to two seized by the Bureau of Customs on Aug. 7 that contained 500 kilograms of shabu worth P4.3 billion.
The committee led by Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers is investigating the PDEA claims.
In his opening statement, Barbers said he does “not believe that the incident happened without the knowledge of and connivance with some corrupt bureau personnel.”
But Lapeña told the congressmen investigating the alleged drug smuggling that Aquino’s claim that one ton of shabu may already be in the streets had no basis.
Lapeña chided Aquino, saying: “As government authorities, we have to be prudent in providing unverified information to the general public to allay further fear or confusion.”
President Rodrigo Duterte seemed to side with Lapeña, calling Aquino’s statements “pure speculation.”
“There was nothing there,” Duterte said at the Palace. “You do not go into speculative content. You must be very sure that you have the goods.”
Aquino did not attend the hearing saying that he had an earlier “important commitment” but sent lawyer Ruel Lasala, officer in charge of PDEA’s Office of the Deputy Director General, who said the agency stands by its findings.
He said drug-sniffing dogs had identified traces of illegal drugs and said that the address of the consignee was the same as that of the intercepted shipment of shabu from Aug. 7.
“All indicators point to the situation that the metallic lifters contained drugs,” he told the committee in a mix of English and Filipino.
Aquino was the police commander in Central Luzon when he was appointed to PDEA by Duterte to replace Lapeña, who was transferred to the BoC.
Aquino was about to leave the police service at the time, being almost 56 years old, the mandatory retirement age for policemen and soldiers.
Barbers said Aquino will be compelled to attend the subsequent hearings on the incident.
An opposition lawmaker on Tuesday batted for compulsory pre-shipment inspection of imports at their country of origin in a bid to put an end to the large-scale smuggling of illegal drugs through the Manila International Container Terminal.
“We are all for pre-shipment checks on imports. Only crooked traders and their rotten coddlers in government are resisting the procedure,” Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, senior deputy minority leader, said.
“We have thrown everything at the problem of endemic Customs corruption. We’ve offered them rewards. We’ve provided them with all the equipment and technology to detect contraband. We’ve even assigned our toughest retired generals there,” Atienza said.
“The BoC is simply beyond repair and redemption. Thus, the only solution left, short of abolishing the bureau altogether, is pre-shipment inspection,” Atienza said.
Under a bill proposed by Atienza, the exact nature of all Philippines-bound commodities would have to be checked and verified at the country of origin, before the goods are put in containers and loaded onto ships.
“Pre-shipment inspection benefits everybody, except the corrupt. Government will collect higher duties. Legitimate importers will avoid costly product defects and get their shipments faster without having to haggle with fixers,” Atienza said.
After Lapeña’s testimony, Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. said the PDEA should issue a
statement to clear the bureau and recant its earlier pronouncements.
“There was misinformation here, and you have to say on record that you [PDEA] made a mistake,” said Suansing, who served as district collector of Port of Manila.
Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop also berated PDEA for not sharing information with the police and the Customs bureau. With Joel E. Zurbano