Lawmakers call for resignation of Customs chief

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Bureau of Customs (BOC) chief Nicanor Faeldon. FILE PHOTO

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 1) — Lawmakers called for the resignation of Bureau of Customs (BOC) chief Nicanor Faeldon following the release of a P6.4 billion (US$ 126 million) shipment of illegal drugs via a special express customs lane.

In the probe by the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs Tuesday, Chairman Rep. Robert Ace Barbers also reprimanded Faeldon for mishandling the drug raid last May 26 when the drugs were seized.

Barbers, along with committee members, said Faeldon should consider resigning, adding that the BOC head should be embarrassed as he was appointed by the President.

"Sayang, pinagkatiwalaan ka ng Presidente. Nilagay ka nga diyan. 'Di nga namin alam, ano qualifications mo bakit ka nilagay diyan. Pinalusot niyo 'yang 605 kilos (ng shabu) na 'yan. Di ba embarassment 'yan kay Presidente? You tainted this campaign against drugs," Barbers said.

[Translation:The President trusted you. You were assigned to that post. We don't even know your qualifications for the post, and you let 605 kilos of shabu slip through. Isn't that an embarassment to the President? You tainted this campaign against drugs.]

"You have few hours to think about your resignation. You should resign," he added.

But Faeldon said he would rather be fired by the President.

"I am a soldier. I do not treat this position as a job. For me, this is a mission. However, a soldier can be fired. Let the President fire me," Faeldon said.

Faeldon left the probe early for a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte. After the meeting, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez said Duterte is in full support of Faeldon.

Did BOC block drug ops?

During the hearing,  Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) - NCR Regional Director Wilkins Villanueva claimed the BOC already started conducting the anti-illegal drug operation without authority, and without following proper protocol.

"Nakabuyangyang na lahat ng droga eh," Villanueva said. "'Yung lahat ng drugs na 'yun contaminated dahil lahat ng tao naghawak e. Lahat ng tao nag-selfie na doon sa drugs e. I was really taken aback."

[Translation: The drugs were exposed. All of the drugs were contaminated because everyone was able to handle them. They even had selfies with the drugs. I was really taken aback.]

Villanueva said they would have conducted a controlled delivery: all seized drugs would be marked, then delivered under the supervision of an authorized officer. He explained the controlled delivery is necessary to identify the person involved in the drug trade and to facilitate prosecution.

"Ang problema nagmamagaling-magalingan tayo dito, wala naman pala tayong alam," Villanueva said.

[Translation: The problem is, we're acting like we know everything, but we don't.]

Faeldon responded that he did not allow PDEA's plan because it might take too long and they might not be able to seize all drugs in the warehouse.

Villanueva claimed that with Faeldon's course of action, only the caretaker of the warehouse has been charged in the multi-billion peso drug shipment.

Barbers also alleged that the BOC sabotaged its own raid which it conducted on May 26 on a warehouse in Valenzuela City where the P6-billion shabu shipment was discovered. When the solon asked for details of the raid from PDEA Director General Isidro Lapena, the latter in turn requested for an executive session or closed-door briefing on this with the lawmakers.

Faulty Command Center

Barbers criticized the bureau's Command Center which Faeldon created when he assumed leadership of the BOC. The Command Center has the power to issue alert orders on certain imports.

The congressman claimed the Command Center was inefficient since it was unable to track the entry of P6.4 billion worth of metamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, through a special express customs lane reserved for importers and businesses with verified records in the BOC.

In Monday's Senate hearing, Customs officials said more than 600 kilograms (1,320 lbs) of the illegal drug were smuggled in separate packets that were stuffed into five metal cylinders used for printing presses. These were declared by EMT Trading, an importer with no reliable track record of business with the Bureau of Customs, as kitchenware, they added.

Related: Senate alleges corruption and incompetence in Customs bureau over biggest haul yet of shabu smuggled into PH

Faeldon defended the Command Center, telling the House committee that within the one year from its creation, almost P8 billion worth of illegal drugs were confiscated by the BOC. This amount in one year surpassed the six years it took the previous administration to seize the same value of illegal drugs, he added.

Another shipment of shabu missing?

Meanwhile, Valenzuela City Congressman Wes Gatchalian warned that another shipment of shabu may be missing in Valenzuela City.

He said that customs officials returned to a barangay in the city on May 30, after the first raid on May 26, hoping to find additional drugs that may have been smuggled.

"On May 30, the BOC operatives were looking for additional shabu shipment based on the letter of authority issued by BOC chief to do the second raid.  Unfortunately, they were not able to produce the said contraband," Gatchalian said in a statement Tuesday, adding that the second raid was conducted "without the knowledge of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency."

The barangays of Paso de Blas and Ugong in Valenzuela City are industrial areas adjacent to the North Luzon Expressway, making it a convenient conduit to smuggle drugs throughout the rest of Luzon, the congressman said.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas and Lara Parpan contributed to this report.