By Dona Z. Pazzibugan, January 25 2019; Philippine Daily Inquirer
Image Credit to Philippine Daily Inquirer
The National Bureau of Investigation on Thursday recommended criminal and administrative charges against former Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña for his failure to prevent the smuggling of billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs into the country in July last year.
After concluding its investigation of the smuggling of P11 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) through the Port of Manila, the NBI submitted its findings to the Department of Justice (DOJ), naming nearly 50 people, including Lapeña, who should face drug importation, graft and administrative charges, as well as charges of false testimony and perjury over the scandal that made President Duterte put the Bureau of Customs (BOC) under temporary military control.
Duterte removed Lapeña from the BOC at the height of the scandal and appointed him as director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
The President replaced Lapeña at the BOC with Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The NBI recommended that Lapeña, along with Manila district collector Vener Baquiran, be charged with graft, dereliction of duty and grave misconduct for their inaction against the importers of the shabu that came in hidden inside magnetic lifters that arrived in two shipments at Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) in July last year.
One shipment, 500 kilograms of shabu worth P4.3 billion hidden in two magnetic lifters, was found abandoned at MICT on Aug. 7.
But the other shipment had slipped past the BOC and it was believed to be 1 ton of shabu concealed in four magnetic lifters that Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents found in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez town in Cavite province on Aug. 8.
The shabu, however, had already been removed when the authorities found the magnetic lifters.
The NBI identified PDEA Deputy Director General Ismael Fajardo Jr., dismissed police Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto and former customs intelligence agent Jimmy Guban as the “core conspirators” in the illegal drug smuggling.
It asked the DOJ to charge them with drug importation, graft and grave misconduct along with former Deputy Customs Commissioner Ricardo Quinto, Senior Insp. Lito Pirote, other BOC employees, and several Chinese and Vietnamese citizens, and the Filipinos whom they allegedly recruited to bring the shabu into the country.
Lapeña, the NBI said, showed “deliberate intent to favor” the importers of shabu because he did not file charges against them.
“His deliberate intent to favor the violators was manifested by the fact that, [although] the violators were identified by Commissioner Lapeña, he did not prosecute or cause the prosecution of the violators,” the NBI said.
“Up to this time, the Bureau of Customs did not initiate a case against the consignees and importers of the magnetic lifters,” it added.
The NBI said Lapeña was liable for graft for causing injury to the government through the entry of a large amount of shabu into the country.
Controversy with PDEA
The PDEA asked the DOJ last year to file charges against 40 people over the drug smuggling but recommended no charges against Lapeña.
It said it had found no evidence to link Lapeña to the smuggling.
Initially, Lapeña insisted that no shabu was recovered from the four magnetic lifters that had been found in Cavite.
The PDEA, however, said a sniffer dog had detected shabu and traces of the illegal drug had been found in the magnetic lifters.
After days of exchanges with PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino, Lapeña conceded during a hearing in the House of Representatives that the magnetic lifters could have contained shabu.
The Senate blue ribbon committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon also investigated the shabu smuggling and recommended the filing of charges against Fajardo, Acierto and the consignees of the magnetic lifters.
No charges were recommended against Lapeña.
Gordon said he did not think the former customs commissioner was involved in the drug smuggling. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH