Blue Ribbon Committee chair Senator Richard Gordon asked Bureau of Custom officials that question. So did former Bureau of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon.
Both men, during separate probes in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, on the multi-billion pesos worth of shabu smuggled inside magnetic lifters, got no answer.
Both men demanded the answers.
To this day, none has been given.
Before President Rodrigo Duterte came into office, it would have been easy to get those answers simply by clicking on the Bureau of Customs website. John Sevilla, when he was Customs Commissioner, had started uploading all the imports coming into the country in excel files.
The excel files even indicated whether a particular shipment was misdeclared and what Customs did about it.
When Duterte became president, the practice was discontinued and the excel files that were already uploaded vanished from the BOC website.
I can understand that illegal drugs are being smuggled into the country, secretly offloaded from ships at sea and picked up by Filipino partners.
But what simply boggles the mind is how NEARLY TWO TONNES of shabu in SIX magnetic lifters could have sailed through Customs, under the “watchful” eyes of the Customs officials.
I mean, have you ever tried getting a small package from the post office sent to you as a “gift” from overseas? I remember trying to claim a package that went a wee bit over US$50 in value. It was something like US$54.
The beady-eyed Customs officer told me I had to pay P2,000 to claim it. They are THAT CAREFUL IN EXAMINING A SMALL PACKAGE THAT CONTAINED A BOOK, A PART OF A COMPUTER AND SOME GADGET.
But with nearly two tonnes of shabu worth nearly P12 billion pesos. My gosh, these simply sailed through Customs. One shipment of two magnetic lifters was found ABANDONED in a warehouse after Customs cleared it, still containing shabu The other shipment of four magnetic lifters was found ABANDONED, but no longer containing shabu.
Now contrast that with what is happening in the streets in Duterte’s war on drugs. Thousands are being killed for possessing drugs, many of them for having JUST ONE SACHET OF SHABU.
One SACHET, you get the death penalty. Being unable to stop nearly TWO TONNES from entering the country, one government official got a promotion, the other got the President to be his baby’s ninong.
And that’s why Alan decided to find out more about the magnetic lifters containing shabu.
PHILIPPINES’ CORRUPT CUSTOMS BUREAU MAKES MOCKERY OF DUTERTE’S WAR ON DRUGS
- What do shady operatives, whistle-blowers, X-ray scanners, and a US$205 million drug haul have in common?
- They’re part of the deceit and debacles at the Bureau of Customs that turned Duterte’s deadly war on drugs into a farce
BY ALAN ROBLES
4 NOV 2018
It started like a drug-war police thriller. Now it’s playing like a farce, with bumbling agents pointing fingers at each other and an exasperated President Rodrigo Duterte looking hapless, sacking officials and calling in the army.
The plot includes shady operatives, whistle-blowers, X-ray scanners, sniffer dogs – and a colossal shipment of drugs with a value beggaring belief.
At the heart of the story are magnetic lifters, the massive, circular steel plates attached to cranes to move scrap metal.
On August 7, law enforcement officers acting on a tip converged on a container van at the Manila International Container Terminal. Inside the container, which was declared to be a shipment of door frames, were two magnetic lifters. Hidden inside them was 355kg of shabu, the local term for crystal meth, with a street value of at least 2.4 billion Philippine pesos (US$44.77 million). It was a jackpot – and agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) had reason to congratulate themselves.
Unbeknown to the team, however, a far bigger prize had eluded them. Someone who saw a television report on the raid reported that, weeks previously, he had helped bring four similar-looking magnetic lifters to a warehouse in Cavite City, south of Manila. But when operatives raced to the location on August 10, they were too late. In the deserted warehouse were four abandoned magnetic lifters, each with a neat square cut into the flat surface. Trained sniffer dogs found traces of shabu in the cavities. They had been emptied on July 15, more than three weeks before they were discovered by agents.
The PDEA initially estimated the lifters contained one tonne of shabu, valued at 6.8 billion pesos. A closer look revealed they had been specially modified to carry drugs and the actual load was 1.68 tonnes – or 11 billion pesos. So much shabu entered the market that prices in Manila fell – on television, PDEA director general Aaron Aquino said shabu, which used to cost 6,600 pesos per gramme, now went for 1,600 to 2,000 pesos per gram. “The shabu is now on the streets, being used,” he said.
The four lifters had arrived from Vietnam and had been X-rayed by customs inspectors who then waved them through. The finger-pointing started almost immediately. Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña blamed the PDEA for not alerting his staff, claimed the scans had found nothing suspicious and denied the lifters contained drugs. For his part, the PDEA’s Aquino told local media that people within the BOC were helping the drug smugglers, and was not shy in expressing his frustration: “We seize around five grams in [a buy-bust] operation, but the drugs entering are by the tonne, so what’s the use of our efforts?”