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P11-billion suspect turns witness

Palace: Shabu mess led to AFP takeover of BoC

Former Bureau of Customs intelligence agent Jaime Guban has been admitted to the government’s Witness Protection Program, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.

READ: Shabu mess: Plot thickens

P11-billion suspect turns witness
RAKED OVER THE COALS. Senator Richard Gordon (foreground) chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee grills former Customs agent  Jimmy Guban during the continuation of the  Senate inquiry into the P6.8-billion shabu shipment that allegedly eluded Customs men.  Guban, one of the suspects in the shabu smuggling incident, turned state witness.
Lino Santos
He declined to give details, however, on the sworn statement that Guban submitted to the Justice Department as part of the requirement for his admission into the program.

Guban is considered a “vital witness” in the investigation into the P11 billion worth of shabu that allegedly slipped past the Bureau of Customs in August.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon turned Guban over to the DOJ after he appeared at a Senate hearing on the smuggled shabu.

Guban, who President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered arrested for his alleged involvement in illegal activities, was implicated in the release of the contraband, an incident that brought to light the prevalence of corruption at the BOC.

The corruption was so serious that President Duterte on Monday ordered the military to take control of the bureau.

But Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Tuesday Duterte only asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines for help to suppress the prevailing “state of lawlessness” in the “corruption-ridden” bureau.

“Let us not also forget that earlier on, the President has declared a state of lawlessness. The provision of the Constitution says when there is lawless violence, then the President can call up the Armed

Forces of the Philippines,” he said in a Palace press briefing.

In his latest argument, Panelo used the terms “state of lawlessness” and “state of lawless violence” interchangeably, defending the constitutionality of the military takeover at Customs.

“Now, the lawless violence certainly would refer to what is happening in BoC. There is a state of lawlessness. If you can bring in hundreds of kilos of drugs, then there must be some grave wrong in that area,” he said.

“And there is state of lawlessness there. It violates the law, it violates the Constitution,” Panelo added.

“When you say lawless violence, it’s not just physical violence. You do violence to the Constitution, you do violence to the law,” he said.

Also, Panelo clarified that active soldiers will not be given appointments or designations in the bureau following the critics’ argument that such a military takeover would violate the Constitution.

“These people will be there first to make their presence felt and hopefully intimidate those corrupt people there,” he said.

Panelo said that soldiers will be “guarding” the activities of BoC personnel. Though they will not formally assume the duties of BoC personnel, the soldiers will still have to learn the bureau’s processes.

Asked if the military men will formally take over the functions of the BoC agents, Panelo said they do not see the need yet.

“For now, no. But if it comes to a point that it is needed, the Constitution allows it,” he said.

Duterte earlier authorized the military to “assist” the operations in the BoC, hoping the men in uniform can put an end to the bureau’s corruption and smuggling activities.

In his previous speech, he reiterated that the alleged corruption in BoC are covered by the state of lawlessness.

“Remember that I have issued during the first days of my term, this is the declaration of lawlessness. Part of the lawless elements are there inside the Bureau of Customs,” Duterte said in Davao City Sunday.

Duterte’s critics, however, were quick to lambast his directive, arguing that military deployment in BoC is unconstitutional as it would violate a Constitutional provision prohibiting members of the armed forces from assuming civilian positions in the government.

But Panelo argued that the provision should not take precedence over the constitutional provision that states the “prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people.”

“The President cannot be held hostage by a provision produced as a repercussion of the bygone days and ignore his main constitutional duty of leading the government in serving and protecting the people,” he said.

Senator Richard Gordon backed the order of President Duterte for the military to take control of the Bureau of Customs, saying the agency is “under seige” by large-scale drug smuggling.

Speaking to reporters after the Blue Ribbon committee hearing of the shabu shipment that was smuggled through the Manila International Container Port, Gordon said it was clear that the smuggling operations are deep.

“And we are under siege, so President Duterte declared as lawless violence the entry of [illegal] drugs [through] Customs that brings violence to the people,” Gordon said.

He asked the President, however, to detail what the soldiers will do.

Exasperated by the massive corruption and large-scale drug trafficking through the BOC, the President directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines to temporarily take over the bureau.

Duterte also placed the entire BOC police led on floating status and required its members to report to the Office of the President and hold office at the Malacañang gymnasium.

During the resumption of the hearing, Guban washed his hands of any involvement in the P11-billion shipment initially reported as P6.8 billion. He backtracked on his previous claim that he was involved in bringing the said shipment through the BOC.

In an affidavit he read during the hearing, Guban pointed to former Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto who alerted him of an incoming shipment that contained shabu. He said they even worked together to apprehend it—a complete turnaround of his previous claim that it was Acierto who asked him to pick a consignee for shipping two magnetic lifters in Cavite.

While his revelations on Tuesday may contradict his previous statements, Guban said that this was only due to his detention in the Senate, fear for the safety of his family and stress brought about the inquiry.

“I now open myself for more questions regarding this inquiry,” Guban added.

In his new testimony, Guban said he tried to stop the shipment of drugs from being processed.

It was unclear how his reversal would affect his status in the witness protection program.

Former Customs chief Isidro Lapeña, who was transferred to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority after the drug smuggling scandal broke, did not attend the Senate hearing Tuesday.

Topics: Bureau of Customs , Jaime Guban , Witness Protection Program , Menardo Guevarra
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