MANILA: Philippine customs officials on Tuesday defended their bureau against allegations of inefficiency following the release of a P6.4 billion (US$ 126 million) shipment of illegal drugs via a special express customs lane.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC), led by its Commissioner Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, faced a House of Representatives’ committee hearing, the second day of inquiry at the legislative level following Monday’s hearing on the issue at the Senate.
Representative Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs said there were still many unresolved questions from the Senate hearing which they hoped to get answers to at the lower house.
Barbers criticized the bureau’s Command Center which Faeldon created when he assumed leadership of the BOC. The Command Center has the power to issue alert orders on certain imports.
The congressman claimed that the Command Center was inefficient since it was unable to track the entry of the shipment of P6.4 billion of metamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. The drugs entered the country with relative ease through a special express customs lane reserved for importers and businesses with verified records in the BOC.
In Monday’s Senate hearing, Customs officials said more than 600 kilograms (1,320 lbs) of the illegal drug were smuggled in separate packets that were stuffed into five metal cylinders used for printing presses. These were declared by EMT Trading, an importer with no reliable track record of business with the Bureau of Customs, as kitchenware, they added.
Faeldon defended the Command Center, telling the House committee that within the one year from its creation, almost P8.0 billion worth of illegal drugs were confiscated by the BOC. This amount in one year surpassed the six years it took the previous administration to seize the same value of illegal drugs, he added.
Barbers also alleged that the BOC sabotaged its own raid which it conducted on May 26 on a warehouse in Valenzuela City where the P6-billion shabu shipment was discovered. When the solon asked for details of the raid from Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Isidro Lapena, Lapena in turn requested for an executive session or closed-door briefing on this with the lawmakers.
Barbers said the hearing hopes to uncover why the smuggling of banned substances continues and what the holes in customs’ operating procedures are, even as the country pursues its second year of a vigorous campaign against drugs.
The hearing also comes the executive department presents its 2018 budget to Congress, which has told the BOC it may get zero finding due to the allegations of inefficiency and corruption.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela City Congressman Wes Gatchalian warned that another shipment of shabu may be missing in Valenzuela City.
He said that customs officials returned to a barangay in the city on May 30, after the first raid on May 26, hoping to find additional drugs that may have been smuggled.
“On May 30, the BOC operatives were looking for additional shabu shipment based on the letter of authority issued by BOC chief to do the second raid. Unfortunately, they were not able to produce the said contraband,” Gatchalian said in a statement Tuesday, adding that the second raid was conducted “without the knowledge of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.”
The barangays of Paso de Blas and Ugong in Valenzuela City are industrial areas adjacent to the North Luzon Expressway, making it a convenient conduit to smuggle drugs throughout the rest of Luzon, the congressman said.