Comm. Sid Lapeña airs side

October 19, 2018

BELOW is the statement of Bureau of Customs Commissioner, Isidro Lapeña, as regards the continuing campaign to oust him from his post using the brouhaha surrounding the “successful smuggling” of about 1,600 kilos of shabu (according to the PDEA), purportedly contained in the four abandoned ‘magnetic scrap lifters’ found last August 9 inside a warehouse in GMA, Cavite.

I took the initiative of “annotating” some parts of his statement not because I am siding with him but, because I am aware of some of the details surrounding this incident and by doing so, I hope to contribute to the enlightenment of the reading public.

It is significant to note that Comm. Sid remains abroad, having left for the US early this week -- he cannot therefore adequately defend himself -- when the campaign to blame him for the incident suddenly seemed to gather a heightened momentum. Here is his statement (those in brackets are my personal remarks).

“I would like to address some of the recent issues being thrown against me and the Bureau of Customs in the light of the alleged billions of drugs imported into the country through the magnetic lifters found in GMA, Cavite.

“I have recently said that I have refrained from commenting further on this because I respect the ongoing investigation being conducted on the matter by both houses of Congress (this is true. Since the hearing started last month, he refused to tell me anything, even confidentially, arguing we should wait for the report of Congress, especially by the Senate blue ribbon committee).

“However, other parties seem to be discrediting whatever actions we have done and continue to do regarding the incident and even ignore the facts of the case.

“For the record, I ordered for an investigation early on, from the time that two magnetic lifters containing 355 kilos of shabu were intercepted at MICP. In fact, two investigation teams were created relevant to these incidents (this is also true. Comm. Sid told me about this but for the safety of the committee members, we agree I should not write about it for the moment given that we are dealing here with a well-entrenched drug syndicate).

“We still maintain that the 4 magnetic lifters consigned to SMYD Trading went through proper customs clearance.  All X-ray images were submitted to the House committee on dangerous drugs and the Senate committee on blue ribbon. There is no single X-ray image kept from the eyes of the oversight committees.

“Let me stress again that I would submit to the results of the congressional investigation. Any statements made (before the reports were out) are pure speculations.

“Our internal cleansing and anti-corruption efforts must be hurting people from within and outside the organization that I feel there is a concerted effort to discredit the reforms we are doing.

“Our one-strike policy is in force. This even covers district collectors who fail to meet their monthly collection targets (even POM district collector Atty. Sandino Austria, BoC spokesman, was axed last week for failing to hit the POM target).

Several employees had been placed under lifestyle checks and not one employee is being singled out.

“Going back to the issue of drugs and the lifters, perhaps Director General Aaron Aquino should not pin down and blame entirely this problem to the Bureau of Customs. Let me emphasize again the importance of timely intelligence sharing from the PDEA. I would like to remind him that the lifters consigned to Vecaba Trading were intercepted at the port because of shared information.

“I would also like to remind DG Aquino that it was the PDEA that initiated all operations concerning Vecaba and SMYD shipments.  It was also Ismael Fajardo, Jr., one of his most trusted men in PDEA, who orchestrated the entire operations and intelligence build up on this case, It will help if DG Aquino will try to examine himself as the head of PDEA, the agency “responsible for the efficient and effective law enforcement of all the provisions on any dangerous drugs.”

“Let me remind him that President Duterte signed on March 6, 2017, Executive Order 15, which created the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) and Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force To Suppress the Drug Problem in the Country.  PDEA is the lead agency of the ICAD.

“ICAD was created by the President as his blueprint in his anti-drug campaign to ensure that all government agencies are performing their respective roles in curbing the drug problem.

“Upon creation, ICAD has only 20 member agencies, including the Bureau of Customs. Before I left PDEA, ICAD membership increased to 38 government agencies.  While I was still in PDEA, there were 11 meetings conducted and we were actively engaging all member agencies.

“The ICAD is mandated by EO 15 to ensure that each member agency shall implement and comply with all policies and laws concerning the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign in an integrated and synchronized manner.

“Further, PDEA, as Chairperson of the ICAD, shall have the overall responsibility to ensure that the objectives of ICAD are accomplished.

“This brings me to point out, had PDEA, with DG Aquino at the helm, only tried to observe and implement what is provided in EO 15, at the time they were conducting their operations on Vecaba and SMYD, this problem had been avoided.

“Finger pointing and blaming other agencies does not add up in the government’s war against drugs, more so blaming one government agency alone, as if it has done nothing.  DG Aquino, being the head of ICAD should not easily point or blame a member agency when there is obvious failure of intelligence or lack of coordination among member agencies under his leadership.

“Each agency involved in the country’s anti-drug campaign has their own mandate to fulfill. I will not undermine any other agency’s contribution to this fight.

“All agencies involved, including the BoC, are doing its best to address this problem.  Illegal drugs smuggling is not exclusive to the Philippines. Other countries experience similar challenges.  BoC is exerting utmost efforts in this fight.

“To date, the Bureau of Customs, in just a span of one year, under my time, has turned over to PDEA P3.06 billion worth of illegal drugs. While I was in PDEA, a total of 70, 854 operations were conducted and P18.63 billion worth of drugs and non-drugs evidence were confiscated.

“The congressional investigation has also identified the involvement of Jimmy Guban from the BoC and Ismael Fajardo, Jr. from PDEA in the importation of lifters by SMYD Trading.

“The President, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has even showed a drug matrix related to this.  I hope that PDEA will also consider this and investigate.

(In short, if Lapeña is to be axed for ‘command responsibility’ as suggested by Aquino, the same case should apply to him considering that Fajardo has been named by Pres. Duterte and the SBRC as behind the Vecaba and SMYD drug smuggling incidents).

“I have also said that I serve under the pleasure of the President. With that, I trust and will abide by whatever decision our President makes. It is improper to be thinking ahead of the President but wise to wait for his words.

“When I told the Bureau employees to stop the practice of “tara”, I also told them that I will not ask them to do things that I, myself cannot do.  I challenge anyone to file a case against me, and bring me to court and show evidence, if I have received or asked anyone to receive “tara” on my behalf.

“Time and again I have said that corruption and revenue collection are connected.  The Bureau for so many years has not been meeting its collection target.

“Under my command, for eight straight months, we have been exceeding our monthly targets.  This is proof that “tara” and corruption, though not completely eradicated, are slowly being addressed. Revenues are now coming in to the government coffers.

“I am also aware that those affected and hurt with my anti-corruption efforts are the first to cry foul and are now joining forces to discredit me as customs chief as well as the improvements taking place in the Bureau.

“To emphasize again, I am still firm in implementing my current policies: the one-strike policy still stands, the internal cleansing effort still stands, our effort to improve our automation process still stands.

“All our anti-corruption projects will push through. I am committed to doing this no matter how long it takes, and how difficult it may be.”