By Jovic Yee and Leila B. Salaverria, October 30 2018; Philippine Daily Inquirer
Image Credit to Philippine Daily Inquirer
Outgoing Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña on Monday said the drug syndicates that wanted him out of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) had failed even if he had been reassigned because the new head of the bureau would press the reforms he had introduced there.
But Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Senate blue ribbon committee, was looking at Lapeña’s possible liability for negligence in the smuggling of P11 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) into the country through the Port of Manila.
“I have an open mind. He could [have been] negligent. I had told him, ‘Change your people [in the BOC],’” Gordon said by phone on Monday.
President Duterte removed Lapeña as customs chief and reassigned him as head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), a Cabinet-ranked job, last week amid the shabu smuggling scandal.
The President appointed Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to take Lapeña’s place at the BOC.
Lapeña said last week that the allegations of a cover-up of the drug smuggling hurled at him were part of a “well-funded and coordinated attack” to undermine his reforms at the bureau.
“They did not [succeed]. They wanted to place somebody [there] for a purpose, but they weren’t able to attain that. [Guerrero] will continue the reforms. The reforms will be there,” Lapeña said on Monday on the sidelines of his last flag-raising ceremony at the BOC.
“Through the reformative programs that I implemented since my assumption, I have hurt the players and the corrupt in the bureau. Hence, in anticipation of our anticorruption drive, my detractors publicized and exaggerated issues [that had already been] revealed in various congressional inquiries,” he said.
Deputy Collector Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang claimed last week that Lapeña had long been offered to head Tesda, but he refused “because there’s more money” at the BOC.
“He was summoned several times, but he didn’t want to. That’s a promotion, why doesn’t he want it? It’s because there’s more money here. NFA (National Food Authority) was also offered to him. I have contacts in Malacañang. He wants to stay in customs,” she said.
Lapeña belied Mangaoang’s claim, saying he learned about his reassignment to Tesda only on Thursday when President Duterte announced it during the Philippine Coast Guard’s anniversary.
‘I didn’t enrich myself’
He added that in his 14-month stint at the BOC, he could say “with all honesty” that he did not use his position to enrich himself.
“You can ask even the players. I have not seen anybody. I have not received anything. We have a no-take, no-gift policy that is strictly implemented,” he said.
Gordon’s committee that is investigating the shabu smuggling has invited Lapeña to a hearing on Tuesday.
Lapeña was scheduled to turn over the management of the BOC to Guerrero on Tuesday, but Gordon said he could reschedule the event.
“I said if he doesn’t show [up], it would indicate that he is avoiding the hearing,” Gordon said.
“If I were him, I would attend the hearing. He has nothing to fear. I will be fair. This is not a witch hunt,” he added.
Gordon also noted that there was no evidence or testimony linking Lapeña to actual drug smuggling.
A former customs intelligence officer, Jimmy Guban, has turned witness and implicated a former police official, Eduardo Acierto, in the shabu smuggling at Manila International Container Terminal.
Guban said it was Acierto who had directed him to look for a consignee for the magnetic lifter cargo that was used to conceal the shabu.
Acierto has been invited to Tuesday’s hearing, and Gordon has appealed to him to disclose what he knows.
Gordon said it was possible Acieto would be turned into a witness.
“There are big people behind this,” Gordon said. “I’m going to go and show who are the drug syndicates operating in the country.”