At some point, President Rodrigo Duterte will have to make up his mind.
Does he believe the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, who says that P6.8 billion worth of crystal meth or shabu was smuggled into the country through Customs? Or does he believe his Customs chief that no such thing happened?
A Palace statement Monday that the President trusts them both insults our intelligence—and is the kind of wimpy response we don’t expect from the likes of Mr. Duterte.
The crux of the problem is that both officials disagree over four empty magnetic lifters found in an empty warehouse in Cavite on Aug. 9.
PDEA chief Aaron Aquino insists the lifters contained shabu, the presence of which was detected by the agency’s drug-sniffing dogs. The shipment, Aquino says, is now flooding the market, bringing a sharp drop in the price of the illegal drug from P6,800 a gram in July to P1,400 today.
Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña says no such thing happened, and that no traces of the drug showed up in their own tests.
Clearly, they cannot be both correct, and it is silly to say the President trusts them both.
If the lifters had in fact contained drugs as the PDEA says, the vehement denials from the Customs chief suggest a coverup.
On the other hand, if the Customs chief is correct and that no drugs were in the lifters, then the President has an overzealous PDEA chief who cannot be trusted to make the right call in the crucial war on illegal drugs.
To complicate matters, Lapeña has now sacked the deputy collector who accused Customs officials of covering up the smuggling of shabu through four magnetic lifters.
Customs deputy collector Lourdes Mangaoang, the former X-ray division chief, was put on floating status, allegedly for underperformance, and a bureau spokesman pointedly denied she was transferred to silence her.
Mangaoang, he said, was moved because of the “ongoing internal cleansing of corrupt Customs officials” and would be subject to a lifestyle check.
But an official at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport who requested anonymity said Mangaoang was doing her job well because NAIA is one of the top BOC ports and exceeded its collection target of P3.587 billion in September this year.
Mangaoang said her removal was a warning to stop her from testifying against Lapeña.
None of these allegations have been proven, but they hardly inspire confidence. On the surface, we see a whistleblower being sacked by the very people she is speaking out against. Can the Palace continue to ignore these disturbing developments?