‘I did not fail the President’ -- Lapeña

October 26, 2018

FOR the first and only time yesterday, Friday, I got to have a ‘one-on-one’ meeting with Bureau of Customs (BoC) commissioner, Isidro Lapeña at his office, his last official day as Customs chief.

The meeting was both cordial and friendly, with Comm. Sid “thanking” me for all the support I’ve given him during his “turbulent” one year and two months at the helms of one of the most controversial agencies of the government.

As “fate” would have it, Comm. Sid is leaving the bureau over the same controversy that resulted to the relief of his predecessor, Comm. Nick Faeldon, last year -- the smuggling of illegal drugs.

But there the comparison ends, dear readers. For there is a whale of difference surrounding the circumstances that led to their respective departure from the bureau.

Last year’s congressional investigation involving Faeldon and his Magdalo “gangmates” showed that it was their allowing the bureau’s ‘Selectivity System,’ in exchange for regular “tara” from customs players, to be “bastardiszed” that resulted to an opportunity for drug syndicates to regularly bring in their illegal drugs shipments.

As Congress found out, this resulted to allowing even ‘fly-by-night’ and ‘consignees for hire’ to release their shipments thru the ‘Greenlane,’ without any physical inspection at all.  

The questionable situation then prevailing at the waterfront was made worse by the amateurish attempt of the Magdalos in  handling the ‘controlled delivery’ of illegal drugs found hidden inside several metal cylinders delivered at a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

On the other hand, this year’s (ongoing) probe by Congress has so far disclosed the unceasing, sustained campaign to remove Comm. Sid from his post, with the well-entrenched ‘Fajardo-Guban-Acierto Drug Syndicate’ leading the charge, thru their “palusot, pahuli” scheme.

Indeed, even if Comm. Sid has made corrective measures to strengthen the bureau’s systems and processes after becoming customs chief, what can he do against a conspiracy involving the very same personalities whom he believed were with him and PDU30 in our war against illegal drugs?

And aware at this point that no effort would be spared by some quarters to daily discredit Lapeña, PDU30 decided “to spare him from further intrigue,” bared acting Palace spokesman, Salvador Panelo, after the Chief Executive announced on Thursday his promotion of Comm. Sid to Cabinet-ranked position, as director-general of TESDA.

Such gesture by PDU30 of course gives the unmistakable message to all that Comm. Sid continues to enjoy his full trust and confidence.

* * *

FRAMED on the wall of the Commissioner’s office, on the left side, just after entering, was an enlarge picture of Comm. Sid, together with then Davao City mayor, Rodrigo Duterte and, then Davao police provincial mobile group chief, Roland, ‘Bato’ dela Rosa.

Comm. Sid said the picture was taken when he was still the Davao City police chief; scrawled over the photo were kind words from PDU30 and Gen. Bato, clear proof that they all knew each other from way, way back.

Musing over this, I realiszd that it is this “bond,” this trust and confidence they have with each other going over decades as the reason why Comm. Sid, would never do anything abusive— or stupid— in the performance of his duties that would compromise or embarrass the President.   The same, of course, cannot be said of the other presidential appointees.

But because of the suddenness of his relief, how does Comm. Sid feel about it?

Not bitterness or shock, but “a surge of relief” was what overtook him when PDU30 announced he is being transferred to TESDA, Comm. Sid said.

Indeed, talking to him up close and personal yesterday, I noticed that the face of Comm. Sid no longer looked so serious or grim. “Mas maaliwalas” na ang kanyang mukha kahapon.

His “stammering” too seemed to have abated. Hindi na siya “paulit-ulit” sa kanyang pagsasalita. Clearly, the cloud of pressure daily confronting him has disappeared.

But over the gruelling days that he had endured en route to his transfer, with his enemies and critics daily shovelling dirt on him, did he also fell that, somehow, he has let the President down?

“I did not fail the President,” was Comm. Sid’s categorical reply.

And going over the record of his accomplishments as customs commissioner, I can only agree.

In several columns and news reports I filed, I have detailed in this paper those accomplishments. I need not detail them here again except for one— the BoC’s historic revenue collections under his watch.

Under Comm. Sid, the bureau now averages over P50 billion a month— a far cry from the P38 billion monthly average under his predecessor. It is no wonder then that the BoC has met its revenue targets for eight straight months now.

Unstated over this accomplishment is the success of his campaign against corruption for at the BoC, revenue collection is just a reflection of the success or failure of any anti-corruption campaign.

Now, if Comm. Sid thinks that he would have an “easy life” as TESDA head, he may be in for another rude surprise.

For who knows if the “reason” why PDU30 assigned him to TESDA is because Mayor Digong also wants him to dismantle “syndicates” lording it over there?

This is worth watching.  Abangan!