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Monday, June 17, 2024

Lawmaker proposes probe on seized 323 kilos of shabu

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Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr on Wednesday sought a congressional investigation into the discovery by Customs agents of a shipment of beef jerky concealing 323 kilograms of suspected shabu at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) last October 4.

In filing House Resolution 1374, Barzaga said he particularly wants to find out if there are customs personnel involved in the illegal activity, which happened right under the BOC’s nose, to combat drug trafficking “and protect the general public without compromising the promotion of international trade.”

“It appears that a review of the BOC (Bureau of Customs) operations should be made in order to prevent the inward flow of illicit drugs in the country,” Barzaga said.

Barzaga, a veteran legislator, cited the need for the House committee on dangerous drugs to investigate and determine “how to engage the participation of logistics operators, shipping companies, operators and managers, captains, officers, and crew members, port operators and personnel to effectively prevent and combat illicit drug trafficking through ships engaged in international maritime where it has been found that most drug confiscations happen by sea.”

“Consequently, there is a need to examine the adoption of best practices on effective controls of ports and maritime narcotrafficking such as risk assessment, integrated and coordinated approaches by public and private actors, and effective non-intrusive inspections, as well as the adoption of coastal watch activities, detection technology, canine detection, multi-agency participation, and operations, and information sharing which has been adopted by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission and how it best suits the Philippines,” he said.

The senior lawmaker, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, cited Marie Catherine Nolasco’s paper “Smuggling of Illicit Drugs Aided by Customs Players” which was published on the website of United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI).

Under the chapter on “Beating the System of the BOC,” the paper said: “The players at the Bureau of Customs have wittingly or unwittingly paved the way for the drug traffickers to smuggle illicit drugs into the country passing through the Bureau of Customs itself.”

“In the same paper, Nolasco also stated that the lack of X-ray machines limits the BOC from ensuring a 100 percent inspection of all imports. Further, Nolasco recommends the investment of sufficient X-ray machines as well as partnerships with other nations to enable intelligence sharing to deter the smuggling of illicit goods,” the resolution said.

The BOC has said the shipment came from Mexico and arrived last February 24 but no one arrived to claim it, prompting the issuance of a Pre-Lodgment Control Order (PLCO) last September 29.

A PLCO is a written order issued by the Commissioner of the BOC or other customs officers before the “Lodgment of Goods Declaration” or when no “Goods Declaration” is lodged, on the basis of the following grounds: unmanifested goods found on any vessel or aircraft if manifest thereof is required; outright smuggling as defined in Section 102 (ff), Chapter 2 of Title I of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA); prohibited goods; restricted goods verified with the regulatory agency to be without permits except when the regulatory agency allows application of permit after the arrival but before physical release from customs jurisdiction; and the importation contains Products of Illicit Trade which poses danger to the environment, public health, safety, and security.”

According to news reports, the PLCO was issued after the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service received “derogatory information that said shipments contain illegal drugs” and that the shipment was consigned to a certain Salesbeat Within OPC by Logistica Integral Aduanal Meyma and Aime Express Logistics SA DE CV.

Moreover, news reports also stated that it was only on October 4 that the cargo was scanned through an x-ray and physically inspected. “Thus, there is no information as to who is the consignee or the ship that carried the shipment, and more alarmingly, the reason why the illicit shipment was only discovered after the ‘derogatory information’ was received by customs agents,” the resolution said.

House Resolution 1374 also pointed out that just last September 29, about 530 kilos or P3.6 billion worth of shabu concealed in mixed red tea bags and golden tea bags were placed inside brown boxes that also contained either a bag of chicharron or a bag of dried fish was seized in a warehouse in Mexico, Pampanga.

“The operation and subsequent seizure of shabu was also a result of a “derogatory report” from the BOC Intelligence Group and not through the inspection by the BOC,” it said.

Barzaga recalled that the customs player in the case of the P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China, has admitted the existence of the “tara system,” which involves paying off customs officials to ensure the release of the imports he processes.

“According to the player, he was provided with the HS Codes and other methods to give his shipments a better chance of being tagged “green” in the BOC’s Selectivity System. Under the said system, when given a green tag, goods are released without further inspection. All that would have to be done is the payment of the assessed duties and taxes, and the shipment will be released from the Bureau of Customs without inspection,” he said. Maricel V. Cruz

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