Customs chief suffers ‘pain’, takes a leave
EMBATTLED Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon who was hospitalized Wednesday night due to a chest pains will take a leave of absence amid controversy over how P6.5 billion worth of shabu from China slipped through Customs examiners in May.
Customs Deputy Commissioner for the revenue collection and monitoring group Natalio Ecarma III was named as officer-in-charge.
Lawmakers led by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez have been calling for Faeldon to resign over the bungled shabu shipment.
Meanwhile, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director Neil Estrella resigned from his post, two days after Customs Import Assessment Services director Milo Maestrecampo quit.
Maestrecampo had been accused by a broker of taking bribes to facilitate the processing of shipments.
Estrella said he submitted his resignation to President Rodrigo Duterte, with a copy furnished to Faeldon and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
Estrella admitted before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing that he failed to observe protocol by informing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency immediately about the raid on the warehouse in Valenzuela City on May 25 that yielded the large shabu shipment from China.
Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon accused Estrella of incompetence, and said his actions made the Customs bureau a laughingstock.
Estrella’s failure to follow protocol might have rendered the shabu inadmissible as evidence, the Senate hearing found.
Faeldon’s chief of staff Mandy Therese Anderson said that her boss suffered heart problems and could not be released from the hospital yet.
Estrella told lawmakers of his resignation Wednesday night during a congressional hearing, after he was identified by broker-importer Mark Ruben Taguba II of accepting bribes.
“It is with deep regret—not least because of the tremendous trust you have reposed in my position and because of the renewed support you have extended our leadership—that I write to resign as director of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service [CIIS] of the Bureau of Customs [BOC],” Estrella said in his resignation letter to the President.
Taguba II earlier linked several Customs officials who allegedly received bribes from him to ease the shipment of goods at the bureau.
Other BoC officials named by Taguba II include Maestrecampo; Teddy Sagaral, Manila International Container Port Service district intelligence officer; Customs Deputy Commissioner Teddy Raval; and Manila International Container Port District Collector Vincent Philip Maronilla.
The officials denied the allegations.
Estrella also said in his resignation letter that “the sensitivity” of his office and the methodology it entails were “compromised by unnecessary publicity.”
“I hope my resignation paves the way for an impartial investigation and leads to substantive reforms in the BOC,” he added.
Estrella also said he and his colleagues at the BoC “have been true to your mandate—We have faced enormous risks against smuggling.”
“But it is not fair to continue to put my family and colleagues through this outrageously baseless insinuation of wrongdoing. I deny in the strongest possible terms having received any form of bribe from Mr. Mark Taguba,” Estrella said.
A group of accredited customs brokers said Thursday Taguba was not a legitimate customs broker.
“For the information and guidance of the public, Mr. Taguba, is not a customs broker and not a member of the customs broker profession,” the Chamber of Customs Brokers, Inc. said in a statement.
“Accordingly, we request the members of Congress and media practitioners not to continuously address him [as a] customs broker,” the chamber said.
Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said lawmakers would give Faeldon until Monday, Aug. 14, to rest before he is summoned again to hearings.
“We will wait for him to enlighten us on the ongoing controversies at the BoC,” said Abu after Faeldon’s doctor told the House of Representatives about Faeldon’s health.
Faeldon was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital Thursday.
In the Senate, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said Faeldon, a former mutineer like he was, was at the heart of the smuggling controversy in the Bureau of Customs.
“I have enough information to say that he is at the heart of this controversy,” said Trillanes of his former comrade in the Magdalo group that launched several failed coups against then President Gloria Arroyo.
“And once he is done malingering, I hope he musters enough courage to face the grilling of the senators and congressmen,” Trillanes added.
Both Trillanes and Faeldon were involved in the Oakwood Mutiny in July 2003 and the Manila Peninsula siege in November 2007. Both were arrested and detained.
But Trillanes said Faeldon, Gambala and Maestrecampo are no longer part of the Magdalo group.
The senator also said that having known his classmates at the Philippine Military Academy, he is almost certain that Gambala and Maestrecampo are not part of the syndicate that facilitated the release of this P6-billion shabu shipment.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said it’s time for Faeldon to consider resigning and to face the charges that will be filed against him.
Gordon questioned why Faeldon and Customs officers opened one cylinder containing shabu without the presence of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, a move that contaminated the evidence.