'Shabu shipment only tip of iceberg'
A party-list lawmaker on Saturday said the 604 kilos of shabu worth P6.4 billion that were seized by the Bureau of Customs in Valenzuela due to a tip by the Chinese government was just a fragment of the actual shipment.
Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Partylist Rep. Jericho Nograles said that the shabu shipment, all brokered by Mark Taguba, were contained in printing machine cylinders declared as “moulds” and were all granted “green lane” privileges by the BoC.
Nograles said that based on the admission of BOC Intelligence and Investigation Service Director Neil Anthony Estrella, they can only account for approximately 2,000 kilograms out of the 12,700 kilograms inside the 40-footer container.
“The bill of lading of the 40-footer container declared a net weight of 12.7 metric tons. The BOC can only account for 600 gs of shabu and give or take 1.4 tons of packaging. Where is the rest of the 10 tons?” Nograles asked.
Nograles added that if the rest of the shipment was shabu, then there could be 3.6 tons of the drug flooding the market or reexported through the ports.
The DoJ admitted that the evidence is inadmissible because Estrella and his team tampered with the chain of custody and effected the raid without proper authority.
Last Thursday, Nograles said the National Bureau of Investigation discovered three similar crates containing similar cylinders in an apartment in Sampaloc, Manila. All cylinders have already been opened and its contents were already moved elsewhere.
Nograles said that easily, the three cylinders could contain at least 120 kilos each since they are all identical with those that were seized in Valenzuela.
“I don’t think this is a coincidence. There is no way that the contents of the other 18 crates out of the 23 crates declared in the bill of lading would be different from the crates that were discovered in Valenzuela and now in Sampaloc, Manila.
“This only confirms my position that the five crates discovered in Valenzuela were part of a bigger shipment that managed to get through BoC’s green lane. This could be part of the 12.7-ton 40-foot container which was also the source of the Valenzuela cylinders,” Nograles said. “Or worse, it’s from another shipment.”
Nograles also noted that last January, another similar shipment passed through the BoC green lane as admitted by Fidel Anoche Dee, the consignee of the seized cylinders in Valenzula.
Dee claimed he saw three similar crates containing the same printing machine cylinders that were delivered to their Valenzuela warehouse last January.
“In short, this is already a modus and part of the scheme is to make sure that these shipments get the green lane privilege. We cannot win the war against drugs if we continue to have incompetent officers in the BoC,” Nograles said.
In a related development, President Rodrigo Duterte asked lawmakers to appropriate P4.2 billion so the Bureau of Customs could hire more than 3,000 personnel or double its current workforce next year in a bid to improve revenue collection performance and strengthen the campaign against smugglers, Senator Ralph Recto disclosed on Saturday.
The Chief Executive, according to Recto, stated his request in the “President’s Budget Message” for fiscal year 2018. The said document traditionally explains and distills the highlights of the proposed national budget.
Recto said Duterte is also seeking P3.6 billion as the BoC’s budget for 2018. The money, he explained, will be used “to implement an aggressive campaign against smuggling which deprives us, on average, of more than P165.5 billion in potential revenues yearly.”
The President enumerated the anti-smuggling activities to be funded by the proposed appropriations, including the enhancement of cyber security for all ports, and the acquisition of speedboats, firearms and other tactical equipment for better revenue collection.
On top of the P3.6 billion for BoC operations is a separate P4.2 billion lodged in a “special purpose fund” in the budget for the recruitment of more personnel, Recto said.
“In addition to the BoC’s budget, we have tucked in an additional P4.2 billion under the (Fiscal Year) 2018 Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund. This will finance the BoC restructuring, to fill up its more than 3,000 vacant positions, capacitate personnel, improve systems and modernize facilities,” Duterte said in his message to legislators.
Recto’s research showed that of the 6,264 authorized permanent positions in Customs, only 3,031 are filled, leaving a vacancy of 3,233. “These are the items the Palace wants funded and filled,” he said.
Recto said he is supporting the President’s request “if it is linked to reforms and measurable productivity goals. “
“If BoC hires 1,000, and then spends P1.4 billion for their salaries, but if in return they will be able to collect, say, just 10 percent, or P16.5 billion, of the taxes lost to smuggling, then it is a good return of investment,” he said.
Recto said for next year, the average per personnel collection quota is P210 million, based on a P637.1 billion total BoC collection target next year. “So if the new employee has a salary of about, let’s say, P500,000 but will be able to yield tens of millions of pesos in additional revenue, why not?”
“Next year, based on the BoC budget and goals, the agency will need P1 in order to collect P182. That’s the cost to collection ratio. Although mired in controversy, let us not lose sight of the fact that the BoC is a strategic agency which funds public services,” Recto said.
The bureau aims to collect P468 billion for 2017, which according to Recto, would be P1.28 billion on a daily basis. He said the agency’s collection goal is 20 percent of total government tax income.
“Thus it can be said that 20 percent of the total length of roads built, classrooms constructed, medicine bought, textbooks distributed, families given health insurance will be financed by BoC collections,” he said.
Recto said the administration of President Duterte will not be able to deliver on its promises to the people if BoC, the government’s second biggest revenue-generating agency, is “broken, malfunctioning and damaged.”
He added with the resignation of some high ranking Customs officials following the controversial smuggling of P6.5 billion worth of illegal drug shipment at the Manila International Container Port last May, a new team may have to be appointed.
“These must be competent and ethical people, knowledgeable of the intricacies and culture of Customs operations, because the country cannot afford OJTs on training wheels being appointed to such a crucial job,” said Recto.
Meanwhile, the President vowed to resign if critics of presidential son Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo “Pulong” Duterte could produce an affidavit linking him into the P6.4-billion shabu mess riddling the Bureau of Customs.
“Lumabas iyong pangalan ni Paolo, iyong vice mayor ngayon. Sinabi ko talaga... If my son was really into it... all you have to do is produce the paper,” Duterte said in a speech at the centennial celebration of the Southern Philippines Medical Center at SM Lanang, Davao City.
“Just give me an affidavit and I will step down as the President of this Republic. And that is my commitment ot you now. That is my word,” he added.
In an earlier speech, Duterte denied reports linking his eldest son to the Customs mess.
“Those are allegations, they are just using our name,” the President said.
Malacañang last Friday said that Duterte will not interfere in congressional inquiries into how a shipment of shabu worth P6.4 billion slipped past through Customs examiners last May—even if one of his top appointees, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon got implicated.
Both administration and opposition senators and congressmen have called for Faeldon’s resignation after several hearings in both houses, asking Malacañang to show Faeldon and a number of his people the door.