The Department of Justice on Tuesday ended its preliminary investigation on criminal charges against former Bureau of Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña over the drug shipments that slipped past the BOC under his watch last year.
The DOJ’s panel of prosecutors led by Assistant State Prosecutor Mary Jane Sytat held its clarificatory hearing following the inspection last week of the magnetic lifters in Cavite and Manila International Container Port that allegedly carried the multibillion-peso shabu shipments.
With the conclusion of the hearings, the criminal and administrative complaint filed by the NBI against Lapeña and other respondents last January are now deemed submitted for resolution.
Lapeña, now director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, was charged with violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, dereliction of duty and grave misconduct over his failure to act on the drug shipments and personally submit his counter-affidavit.
In its complaint, the NBI has accused Lapeña of criminal and administrative liabilities for his failure to file complaints against the consignees, importers and brokers of the two magnetic lifters discovered with shabu at the Port of Manila and the four magnetic lifters that slipped past BOC and were found empty in Cavite.
This is the first time Lapeña was found criminally and administratively liable over the shabu shipments after he was previously cleared in the fact-finding investigation by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
In a hearing last Feb. 21, Lapeña denied the allegations and sought the dismissal of the complaint. However, he did not give copy of his counter-affidavit to the media. Rey E. Requejo
The NBI filed the same graft and administrative charges against sacked Port of Manila District Collector Vener Baquiran for his failure to declare the two magnetic lifters at the MICP abandoned, and X-ray Inspection Project head Zsae Carrie De Guzman and two others for allowing the four magnetic lifters in Cavite to pass through the BOC.
In the same complaint, the bureau filed drug charges against 50 other individuals tagged in the importation and release of the shabu shipments.
Among those charged with importation of illegal drugs under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) were former PDEA deputy director general for administration Ismael Fajardo Jr., former PNP AIDG OIC Senior Superintendent Eduardo Acierto, former Customs intelligence agent Jimmy Guban, police inspector Lito Pirote and Joseph Dimayuga. They were also slapped with graft and administrative charges.
Guban earlier admitted his involvement and cover-up of the shipments and has been covered by the witness protection program of the DOJ. Fajardo, Acierto and Dimayuga, on the other hand, have not surfaced since the controversy broke last year.
The other respondents included Fhonie Chan alias KC Chan, Willin Ong alias Wilson Ong, Jiang Quoqing, Vedasto Baquel, Maria Lagrimas Catipan and Emelyn Luquingan for the MICP shipment as well as Hsu Chung-chun, James Fung, Le Thi Thu Huong, Du Quoc Duong, Migela Santos, Katrina Grace Cuasay and Marina Signapan for the Cavite shipment.
The NBI filed the charges after its fact-finding probe established a link between the MICP shipment and the magnetic lifters seized in Cavite, citing “distinct similarities and peculiar coincidences” as proof that one syndicate is behind both sets of lifters.
The case stemmed from the discovery of two abandoned magnetic lifters at the Port of Manila in August which contained 355 kilos of shabu worth P2.4 billion.
A day after, similar lifters were discovered abandoned at a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite which PDEA believes to have contained 1.6 tons of shabu worth P11 billion.
In August last year, the PDEA filed a drug importation complaint against four respondents involved in the 2.4-billion shabu shipment at the MICP.
In December 2018, PDEA also filed criminal complaints against more than 40 respondents over the alleged P11-billion shabu shipment in Cavite.
But the agency did not include Lapeña in the charge sheet with Director General Aaron Aquino saying their probers found no “direct link” between Lapeña and the two shabu shipments.