President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday told Bureau of Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero to “shape up” as the chief executive expressed concern over the continued smuggling of illegal drugs into the country.
The President made the remark even as Customs agents at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport seized smuggled shipments of liquid marijuana at the Central Mail Exchange Center in Pasay City, bringing to 95 the total number of drug busts at the airport in a span of two years.
Since January 2018, the Customs-NAIA seized a total of P747.6 million worth of prohibited drugs — cocaine, shabu, cannabis and ecstasy, mostly smuggled from the United States, China and European countries.
The latest seized shipment of 62 pieces of vape juice catridges with liquid marijuana was misdeclared as “food flavorings” and shipped by a certain Roger Bowman from Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The Customs Bureau, in close coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, is now going after the consignee of the shipment identified as Dee Sy, a resident of San Juan City.
The office of Customs NAIA Port district collector Carmelita Talusan immediately turned over the contraband to PDEA officials who conducted field examination along with members of Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force, and confirmed that the vape juices contained Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol, both compounds found in marijuana.
Authorities said the importation of marijuana and its compounds, components and derivatives is still prohibited under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Customs NAIA frontliners are on 24/7 work schedule even during weekends and holidays to collect government revenue, facilitate trade, and guard the country’s border against all fraudulent attempts to bring in illegal goods into the country.
From 2018 to 2019, airport and Customs authorities were also able to arrest at least 15 foreigners for trying to smuggle cocaine and other prohibited drugs at the NAIA.
It was the United States Drug Enforcement Administration which tipped off government agents in the Philippines about the arrival of foreigners, mostly drug mules, in Manila.
Authorities said a drug mule is a type of courier capable of swallowing balloons containing illicit drugs and then transport the illegal drugs across borders. Once they have reached their destination, these balloons are retrieved from the courier’s body.
The bureau is also conducting series of trainings to customs examiners and police on how to conduct proper profiling of in-coming and out-going passengers bringing illegal drugs and highly taxable items at the airport because they are not allowed to open luggage and just rely on the expertise of personnel with the help of X-ray machines.
Commissioner Guerrero commended Collector Talusan and her men for the latest accomplishments at the airport. He said the bureau continues the anti-drug campaign of President Duterte and will continue to ensure vigilance in protecting the borders.
Meanwhile, in a late Monday night public address, Duterte has ordered the reshuffling of the Philippine Health Insurance and the National Bureau of Investigation, and “kill’ those behind the illegal activity.
“I called Jagger, Guerrero here, Commissioner, and I told him I want to see a reshuffle of the different regional offices within the next two or three days,” Duterte said in his speech.
He asked Guerrero, a former military general, why he had not killed a single person involved in the illegal drug trade despite the agency acquiring more firearms.
Duterte also ordered Customs employees with pending cases or had cases before to report to the Palace.
“In this when you are new, you are a babe in the forest and you begin to rely on people who would whisper that, ‘Sir, Sir, we will help you. And when they gain your confidence, he will rely on what they say until you believe that they are doing the right thing,” Duterte said.
Duterte also observed that Guerrero “relied more on people who were already old hands at the BOC, unknowingly making him an unsuspecting victim of a syndicate inside the bureau. adding “he was in their pockets.”
Duterte promised Guerrero that he won’t end up in jail for following his order to neutralize those behind the drug trade in customs.
“I told him, ‘Drugs are still coming in. I want you to kill them. Besides, I will back you up so you won’t go to prison. As long as it is about drugs, shoot, kill. That’s the deal,” he said.
The President earlier considered replacing Guerrero after he dragged his feet in dismissing an alleged corrupt official in the customs bureau.