WERE there or were there not billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs in four empty magnetic lifters found in an empty warehouse in Cavite on Aug. 9?
The question is hardly a trivial one, given that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency says that shabu from that shipment is now flooding the market, bringing a sharp drop in the price of the illegal drug from P6,800 per gram in July to P1,400 today.
PDEA adds that tests conducted on a similar shipment that was seized at the Manila International Container Port on Aug. 7 and drug evidence seized from recent anti-drug operations, show that there is a great likelihood that the shabu on the streets today came from the missing shipment.
But the PDEA claim has been disputed by the Bureau of Customs, which says its own tests showed that the empty magnetic lifters had not contained any drugs. The PDEA countered that their drug-sniffing dogs had detected the presence of shabu.
At the time, President Rodrigo Duterte had come down on the side of his Customs chief, saying the PDEA claims were based on mere speculation.
A congressional investigation has failed to establish thus far who is telling the truth.
But now, a former chief of the Customs X-ray Inspection Project (XIP) says Customs officials covered up a crime by manipulating the X-ray images of the magnetic lifters. A change in color in the X-ray images, said former Customs XIP chief Lourdes Mangaoang, was a telltale sign that something else was inside the magnetic lifters.
“Dogs don’t lie, X-ray machines do not lie, only people can lie. I am very sure it was deliberate,” she told ABS-CBN News.
The former XIP chief also dismissed claims that the current X-ray machines weren’t functioning well, and therefore could not penetrate the magnetic lifters.
“The X-ray can penetrate 11 inches of steel, therefore it can penetrate this,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. “What the Bureau of Customs officials is doing, they are covering up for the crime.”
Customs chief Isidro Lapeña, however, insists there were no drugs in the empty magnetic lifters—and until now, the Palace has said he continues to enjoy the President’s trust and confidence.
As more allegations and evidence of wrongdoing surface, however, such general statements of trust and confidence will no longer be adequate to squelch suspicions that while law enforcement agencies pursue the President’s flagship campaign against illegal drugs, corrupt officials are letting the drugs in, right under the nose of the Bureau of Customs.