House wants criminal charges vs. Faeldon, Customs officials

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Surigao del Norte Representative Ace Barbers chairs the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, which on Thursday released its report on the P6-billion drug shipment smuggled past the Bureau of Customs.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — The House of Representatives wants criminal and administrative charges filed against top Customs officials, including former Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon over what it considered the biggest illegal drug smuggling attempt in the country.

In a 57-page report released Thursday, the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs asked the Ombudsman and Department of Justice to conduct investigations on Faeldon, saying he violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by failing to coordinate with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on the raid that resulted in the P6-billion drug shipment discovery on May 26, 2017.

The report said Faeldon, through his "inexcusable negligence," was responsible for "jeopardizing and/or weakening the chances of the government to secure conviction of any case that may be filed" when customs officials searched and seized the 604 kilograms of shabu without following due procedure. He was also called out for the hiring of athletes who lacked the competence to handle customs positions.

These come on top of corruption issues surrounding the Bureau of Customs, particularly the "tara" or payoff system to different levels of customs officials to facilitate the ease of entry of shipments.

Fixer Mark Ruben G. Taguba II, who was granted legislative immunity by the committee, had testified he spends an average of P27,000 per container to pay off officials in customs.

The report also recommended that the PDEA file a complaint against Faeldon, as well as Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director Neil Estrella. Estrella led the Customs team that raided the Valenzuela City warehouse where the drugs were discovered. The report said he did not observe standard operating procedure when he failed to inform the PDEA of the smuggled shipment.

The officers allegedly violated the Dangerous Drugs Board Regulations No. 1 and 2, as they did not turn over the drugs seized to PDEA and they conducted a supposedly illegal "controlled delivery," the report noted.

Estrella admitted he failed to observe protocol by informing PDEA about the May 25 raid that yielded the drug shipment. The report recommended his investigation by the Ombudsman and the Civil Service Commission.

The House panel also recommended the Dangerous Drugs Board pass a regulation requiring the strict compliance of law enforcement agencies to coordinate with PDEA for all anti-illegal drug operations.

Import Assessment Services director Milo Maestrecampo was recommended for administrative investigation by the Civil Service Commission for "neglect of duty." He was accused of taking bribes during the House probe.

Both Estrella and Maestrecampo have since quit their posts.

The committee also recommended that the Justice Department file complaints against Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala and Faeldon's chief-of-staff, Attorney Mandy Anderson, who was found to be operating under contract and not as an employee of the Bureau.

It said that all officers, including deputy commissioners, heads of office, and port collectors should "take a leave of absence or be replaced immediately... to give way for proper reform and/or for investigation on the corruption issue."

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte's support, Faeldon has since resigned and turned over the position to former PDEA head Isidro Lapeña.

Read: 'You're either with me or against me' - New Customs chief to employees

Move to replace Bureau of Customs

The recommendations also highlighted a need to "pass legislation to replace the Bureau of Customs by a new revenue collection agency."

The new agency, it suggested, would have a "different system of collection to avoid corruption and to increase revenue collection." One of the suggestions is a one-time payment of import or export fees, including duties and taxes, storage, warehousing, and other expenses.

It could even consider the "privatization of non-sovereign functions," as studied by the Department of Finance.

Among the other proposals of the House Committee was the installation of adequate x-ray machines and CCTV cameras in ports as well as the use of body cameras for Customs inspectors, agents, and operatives.

Faeldon previously told CNN Philippines that the Bureau had only 30 x-rays for over 30 ports, and it only had a scanning capacity of 16 percent. He also said the technology needed an upgrade, as none of the scanners have even detected drugs.

Related: X-rays for shipment have never detected drugs - Customs Commissioner

The report also recommended both the PDEA and the Civil Service Commission to look into National Bureau of Investigation officers Atty. Dennis Siyhian and Atty. Catherine Nolasco, and Customs agents Joel Pinawin and Oliver Valiente for failing to turn over the found drugs to PDEA.

It also named the businessmen and middlemen allegedly behind the shipment: Chen Ju Long, alternatively known as Richard Tan or Richard Chen; Dong Yi Shen or Kenneth Dong, Li Guang Feng or Manny Li, Eirene Mae A. Tatad, Teejay A. Marcellana, and Taguba.

The House Committee, chaired by Surigao del Norte Representative Ace Barbers, opened an inquiry into the smuggled shipment on August 1. It ended with lawmakers calling for Faeldon's resignation.

Related: Lawmakers call for resignation of Customs chief

 

Faeldon has maintained his innocence, although he defended the hiring of basketball and volleyball players, whom he said were meant to be "communicators" between the Bureau and the people.

Related: Faeldon defends athletes' appointment, reveals P50k salary