Illegal drugs slipping past the Bureau of Customs, illicit affairs and hidden wealth, basketball players as intelligence officers, corrupt bank official absconding with bank money.
Scandal after scandal have been bombarding our sensibilities. Yet, society appears so blasé about them, in the same manner it seems to have become numbed to the continued extrajudicial killings in the name of the anti-drug war.
How the P6.4 billion worth of illegal drugs from China sneaked past the BOC on May 23, even passing through the “express” lane, continues to boggle the mind. And the information the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and the House of Representatives Committee on Dangerous Drugs have gathered so far from their ongoing hearings is enough to send one up the wall.
It took anti-narcotics operatives three days after the shipment cleared BOC to seize the more than 600 kilos of shabu from warehouses in barangays Paso de Blas and Ugong in Valenzuela City.
This only after the General Administration of China Customs, through the International Enforcement Cooperation Division under the Anti-Smuggling Bureau, provided the BOC with an intelligence report on the two warehouses on Aster Street in Paso de Blas and on F. Bautista Street in Ugong.
The National Narcotics Control Commission of China also identified a “Chen” and a “Li” as the persons behind the shipment.
Cast of characters
The drugs were stored in five metal cylinders hidden inside a roller ball, an equipment used in printing presses, made of thick iron and wrapped with thick rubber which, customs authorities said, cannot be penetrated by X-ray machines.
According to Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director Neil Estrella, a certain Fidel Anoche Dee (Li in Mandarin) and his sister Emily Anoche received the illegal shipment.
The Dee siblings and the seized illegal drugs are now in the custody of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Bureau of Investigation, who assisted the BOC in carrying out the May 26 raid.
Mark Taguba, a broker who owns the truck that transported the illegal drugs, told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that Richard Tan (Chen in Mandarin) is the only person who can pinpoint who shipped and accepted the shipment and, most importantly, who received the cylinders.
Tan owns Hongfei, a company that consolidates shipments from China and has a warehouse in Valenzuela. The consolidated goods from different owners may include the cylinders with the illegal drugs, Taguba said.
Taguba also explained the consignee-for-hire practice in the BOC. In this case, Tan sent Kenneth Dong, his middleman, a packing list of the shipments. Dong, in turn, looked for a broker who could hire a Manila-based consignee for the shipment. He, along with consignee for hire Eirene Mae Agustino Tatad, who owns EMT Trading, had no knowledge of the contraband.
Who then are the “Chen” and “Li” identified by the Chinese authorities? Investigators are trying to verify if they are indeed Tan and Dee.
What is strange here is that the congressmen learned from Estrella during their hearing that the intel info from China was sent only through SMS to Estrella’s chief of staff, something the PNP intelligence operatives said has never happened before with the protocol-conscious China agencies.
In fact, information from Xiamen customs officials reveal that they alerted Richard Tan about the illegal shipment and it was Tan who informed the BOC about it. Xiamen officials were aghast that instead of discreetly investigating who is the recipient of the shipment, BOC made it a media event and allowed the real culprit to get away.
This, definitely, is a can of worms that deserves deeper investigation. Is Tan himself involved or is he a victim is something that Congress should find out.
Customs officials are blaming the chief of the BOC’s Risk Management Office, lawyer Lambert Hilario, for failing to stop the shipment’s entry.
Hilario apparently gave EMT Trading super green access, which exempts shipments from regular inspection. He also failed to encode the data in the BOC’s system that the shipment contained illegal drugs and inform the PDEA upon learning of the shipment. Hilario has been suspended from his post.
What’s shocking is Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s revelation at the hearing that only P40,000 in duties was paid for each container from China.
Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon said the BOC’s selectivity system is based on the products and the status of the importing company. Only reputable companies can avail of the super green lane. The blue lane allows minimal inspection of shipments. Those in the yellow lane go through document verification. The red lane is for companies or products tagged as critical that need to go through two kinds of inspection: an intrusive inspection or being opened for a visual check, as well as an inspection by X-ray.
A BOC rule is that shipments from China must be placed in the red lane. That’s partly because China continues to be the biggest source of illegal drugs.
There are red flags here: Why then was the P6.4 billion shipment released through the super green lane? And why the nonworking closed-circuit television when the shipment was being unloaded from customs?
Tara, generals and athletes
Congressmen who attended the House hearing appeared as if they were hearing about the “tara” system at the BOC for the first time. Tara is the BOC term for grease money or payola (payoff).
Many of our congressmen are businessmen. Surely they have encountered the grease money system before.
Taguba’s revelation says it all. There is an organized and systematic method of corruption at BOC to facilitate release of cargoes and containers.
At the House hearing, Taguba said he was giving P27,200 of “tara” per container, including P10,000 for Custom’s Internal Affairs Service and P7,500 “for the section.”
He said the IAS gets the biggest chunk because it is the most influential.
At the hearing, Valenzuela City Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo sought the removal of 14 retired military and police generals from the BOC for their alleged failure to meet collection targets, blaming this on their lack of background on duties and tax collection.
The House panel, meanwhile, warned 27 athletes hired by the BOC as intelligence officers they could be criminally liable for malversation of public funds. The athletes are, in reality, members of the bureau’s basketball and volleyball teams, who are each paid a monthly salary of P40,000 to P50,000 supposedly to help in the bureau’s image building.
That image has been tarred by corruption. I wonder what these athletes imagine they can do to repair that image.