Authorities used the process of auctioning off the abandoned shipment at the Bureau of Customs to locate the warehouse and identify the possible recipients or owners of the P1.9 billion worth of shabu earlier seized at a warehouse in Malabon City.
On Friday, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency director general Aaron Aquino led officials of PDEA and other law enforcement agencies in presenting the seized 146 kilos found at the warehouse of Goldwin Commercial.
The contraband was part of a three 20-foot container van shipment of 51,000 kilos of tapioca starch from Cambodia exported by HKSTC Trading Co. Ltd. abandoned at the Manila International Container Port in North Harbor.
PDEA operatives identified the suspects on Balitanghali, heard nationwide, as Lu Jun, Zuo Sheng Li, Li Yu, and Ye Ling. Two of them allegedly used fake passports while one of them failed to present any documentation.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo assured the public the government would “never allow our country to be flooded with prohibited drugs by the merchants of death and destruction.”
He said the Duterte administration would not rest until the last drug apparatus was destroyed and the last drug pusher was sent to jail.
Combined elements of PDEA, the Bureau of Customs, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and the Bureau of Customs raided the Goldwin Commercial Warehouse in Malabon and found 146 kilos of shabu concealed in 114 bags of aluminum pallets which came from Cambodia.
Manila International Container Port District Collector lawyer Erastus Sandino Austria said the BOC recovered the abandoned shipment in March and on April 22 put it up for auction.
The PDEA and the BOC said they were expecting that a drug syndicate would bid for it, but the Goldwin Commercial Warehouse in Malabon emerged as the highest bidder, which explains why the P1.9-billion drug haul was recovered in the city.
But PDEA stressed no evidence linked the owners of the warehouse to the drug trade.
For his part, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the bureau was committed to strengthening its intelligence and enforcement capabilities.
“We have equipped our Customs officers with the proper tools to identify illegal drugs including the proper intelligence-sharing agreements with government authorities,” Guerrero said.
Aquino said after their successful anti-drug operation in Dasmariñas, Cavite last Feb. 13, his agency and the Armed Forces of the Philippines conducted a forensic investigation on the mobile phones of the arrested suspects Alexander Jun Wah Ting Lee and Patrick John Gankee.
“During the forensic investigations, we learned that their group is expecting a shipment of illegal drugs concealed in tapioca starch consigned to Goroyam Trading,” said Aquino.
The PDEA immediately coordinated with the Bureau of Customs to locate the shipment, which was found abandoned at the Manila International Container Port on March 5.
It was learned the shipment was forfeited in favor of the government last March 1, 2019 after the consignee failed to file an import entry with the Bureau of Customs and abandoned it.
MICP officials said they had received intelligence information from PDEA that a shipment of tapioca starch consigned to Goroyam Trading might contain illegal drugs.
“We take all reports of alleged existence of drugs seriously. That is why we immediately reviewed the shipments that passed through MICP and even subsequent shipments which arrived at the port after we received the intelligence report,” said Austria.
Through this method, Customs agents were able to identify a shipment that fits the profile of the suspected drug importation that might have arrived in the country last Jan. 27, 2019 from Cambodia.
The authorities searched the abandoned shipment and discovered it indeed contained illegal drugs concealed in the aluminum pallets.
But instead of immediately seizing the illegal shipment, they decided to allow the shipment to be auctioned off, hoping to draw out possible members of the drug syndicates who might be interested in bidding on the drug shipment.
During the public auction on April 22, 2019, Goldwin Commercial submitted the highest bid and won the bidding on the three containers of tapioca starch.
The authorities then conducted a background check on the winning bidder to determine if it had connections with illegal drug syndicates, but there was no evidence showing the proprietors of Goldwin were involved in any drug syndicate or smuggling activities.
When the shipment was claimed by Goldwin on May 22, 2019, combined elements from PDEA, Customs AFP, the Coast Guard and the National Police immediately conducted the next day a special operation and swooped down on the firm’s warehouse in Malabon where they discovered the hidden drugs in the pallets.
During the joint operation, the authorities discovered that illegal drugs were inserted in 30 aluminum pallets where the tonner bags containing the tapioca starch were placed.
Each of the pallets had five hollow bars across each frame, of which three to four of the hollow bars per pallet contained the illegal drugs.
“This seizure of illegal drugs is both connected to PDEA’s Dasmariñas, Cavite operation last Feb. 13 with seizure of 36 kilos of shabu worth P244 million and the Tanza, Cavite operation last Feb. 3 wherein 274 kilos of shabu worth P1.9 billion was seized,” said Aquino.
Aquino said the shipment of illegal drugs was from Cambodia and was part of the Golden Triangle drug syndicate.
Guerrero said a shipment would be tagged abandoned if its entry was not filed in the agency’s electronic-to-mobile (E2M) system within 15 days.
From the original 30 days grace period for importers to lodge an entry for their shipments, they now only have 15 days to comply with the process before their goods would be released.
Once a shipment is tagged abandoned, the bureau will have the authority to forfeit the goods in favor of the government.
It will either be auctioned off or destroyed.
In May 2017, combined forces from various law enforcement agencies also raided two warehouses in Valenzuela City where they seized more than 600 kilos of shabu worth P3 billion.
Authorities urged the public to continue taking an active role in the campaign against illegal drugs, which remain the serious concern of the government under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
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