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Faeldon’s huge problem

There’s been great work done on one side of the illegal drugs problem, the end-user side. Now the Duterte administration must address the supply side, or all its work will be for naught.

The bloody assault on the Parojinog political warlord clan’s compound in Ozamiz City last Sunday was supposed to be a surgical strike on a major drug distribution network. The investigations being conducted by both Houses of Congress on the anomalous entry of P6.4 billion worth of shabu through the Manila port last May represent the effort to stem the problem of large-scale importation of narcotics from abroad, specifically from Chinese methamphetamine factories, or the other end of the festering drug problem.

At the center of the ongoing Congress probes is Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, the former Magdalo putschist whose resignation is being demanded in the House for gross incompetence. Faeldon has also reportedly been summoned by President Rodrigo Duterte to explain the scandalous entry, with the help of corrupt Customs personnel and brokers, of the huge shipment of high-grade shabu through our notoriously porous ports.

The Senate had earlier summoned Faeldon to shed light on reports that the drugs, which were seized in a Valenzuela warehouse late in May after Chinese intelligence authorities tipped off local authorities, breezed through the Customs “green lane” supposedly used exclusively by reputable, regular importers for the entry of legit goods. It became clear that the shabu shipment was given preferential treatment and did not cause any red flags to be raised, when they should have.

Then the House, which had been keeping secret custody of key witnesses involved in the suspicious shipments, began its own probe yesterday. During the House hearing, Faeldon was taken to task by an official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for bickering with PDEA over the seized shipment, which the narcotics agents wanted to use to entrap the real importers and owners of the drugs.

Setting aside the issue of corruption which has always plagued Customs, Faeldon’s apparent failure to stop the entry of the drugs at the port of entry is truly troubling. After all, the sheer size of the shipment, contained in five large crates, calls into question the efficacy of the supposed stringent inspection and examination procedures currently in place at the bureau.

Again, the problem of corruption at the bureau has always stymied every attempt to impose proper duties on imported goods, which has been blamed for the failure of the second-highest revenue generating agency to contribute more income for the government. What’s happening at Customs, which processes the release of 10,000 container vans of all kinds of cargo every day, is economic sabotage—but even that sounds like a petty crime, compared to the apparent use of legitimate ports to bring in shipments of illegal drugs.

Faeldon seems unable to stop the corruption at the ports, because his bureau still cannot even make the revenue targets set by the national government one year after he has served as Customs chief. But if it becomes evident that he is also failing at the job of preventing the entry of illegal drugs into the country through the same ports that are already being used by all kinds of smugglers to deprive the government of revenue and kill competition in an open market flooded with cheap, untaxed goods, then Houston, we have a huge problem.

The centerpiece anti-drug campaign of Duterte is in dire danger of falling flat on its face unless the entry of drugs from abroad is stopped. The police cannot possibly keep killing big and small drug dealers if the flow of drugs into the country is not stopped; if the steady supply is not threatened, there will be no shortage of drug dealers to take the place of the Espinosas or the Parojinogs, given the fantastic profits to be made from the illegal trade.

Faeldon must show that he is not becoming a liability not only in the proper collection of revenues from smuggled goods but also in the fight against illegal drugs. Or he really should prepare to leave his post as just another casualty of the seemingly uninterrupted corruption at the Customs bureau.

* * *

The first correct thing that the Catholic Church did in the case of alleged sexual predator Monsignor Arnel Lagarejos was to appoint the well-respected Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz to conduct an investigation of the matter. Cruz, an acknowledged expert in Church law who has handled cases of erring clerics before, is a straight shooter who will certainly not allow himself to become part of a coverup of the case involving Lagarejos, who was arrested with a 13-year-old alleged sex worker over the weekend.

Prior to assigning Cruz to the case, the Diocese of Antipolo —which has supervision over Lagarejos—attempted its own version of stonewalling, calling on the faithful to stop commenting unnecessarily on the sensational case, a call which quite naturally fell on deaf ears. The Church leadership also failed to use the opportunity to condemn sexual abuse committed by one of its own clerics, a monumental blunder, considering how it excoriated President Rodrigo Duterte in the past for making mere jokes about rape.

I trust that Archbishop Cruz —who took on illegal gambling lords and then-president Noynoy Aquino at the height of his powers—will leave no stone unturned in his investigation. And that is what the Church needs to do: to come clean about this sex scandal, which nearly turned into a textbook example of the hypocrisy of the modern-day Padre Damasos amongst us.

Topics: Jojo Robles , illegal drugs , Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon , Congress , Bureau of Customs , Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency , PDEA , Catholic Church , Monsignor Arnel Lagarejos , Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz
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