I have been in and out of circulation for the past three weeks. Backtracking news reports, I found, to my regret, a number of disturbing happenings that make me question where recent events are leading us.
Media reported that former Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Isidro Lapeña was promoted to Cabinet rank on Oct. 25 even if shabu worth billions of pesos disappeared from the Bureau of Customs under his watch.
Lapeña was appointed director-general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. Malacañang said he still has the “full trust and confidence” of President Duterte, who earlier justified the disappearance of the shabu as “nalusutan lang.”
In August, Lapeña, then BOC chief, and Philippine Drugs Enforcement Administration (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino figured in a word war. It was over whether or not four magnetic lifters discovered in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite on Aug. 9 contained P6.8 billion worth of shabu. Lapeña vehemently denied that the BOC was negligent. He claimed the lifters were empty and insisted that Aquino retract his claim.
Even earlier, lifters containing 355 kilograms of shabu worth P4.3 billion were found at the Manila International Container Port (MICP). Aquino at the time insisted the lifters at both the MICP and in Cavite are the same and both contained illegal drugs.
Two and a half months later, on Oct. 24, during a legislative inquiry, Lapeña backpedaled on his earlier statement, saying magnetic lifters found in Cavite may have contained illegal drugs. This after former Customs X-ray Inspection Project (XIP) chief Lourdes Mangaoang told the congressional hearing on Oct. 18 that illegal drugs were detected in the Cavite magnetic lifters. Moreover, X-ray images showed the four magnetic lifters did not have any overhead cranes, suggesting that there was no intention to use the magnetic lifters for industrial purposes.
Dogs don’t lie
Mangaoang showed the X-ray images of the magnetic lifters the BOC examined on July 14. She said they were all contained in the report she gave Lapeña and was thus quite surprised when Lapeña did not take any action. “I gave him a copy. Sir, may laman yan, i-relieve mo yung mga involved, pero wala siyang aksyon. Pinagtatakahan ko, wala siyang aksyon. Shabu ito.”
She explained that she showed the images to Lapeña and said it’s not empty and he should relieve those involved. She was puzzled why there was no action. She added that Lapeña can be held liable for command responsibility.
In media interviews after the hearing, Mangaoang told ABS-CBN News: “Dogs don’t lie, X-ray machines do not lie, only people can lie. I am very sure it was deliberate. That is the modus operandi, if the examiner sees some undeclared contents in the container, they deliberately blur the image.”
Mangaoang also dismissed claims that the current X-ray machines weren’t functioning well and, therefore, cannot penetrate such magnetic lifters.
“The X-ray can penetrate 11 inches of steel, therefore, kaya niyang i-penetrate ito. What the Bureau of Customs officials is doing, they are covering up for the crime,” she said.
Mangaoang lamented that while she was invited as a resource person in the hearing, she was the one whose credibility was questioned by the lawmakers. She said Lapeña was the one on trial, but “I felt I was the one being treated as a criminal by these ‘inquisitors,’” I heard her lament over the radio after the hearing.
Shabu street price drops
Lapeña had no recourse but change his tune because on top of Mangaoang’s testimony, the PDEA reported that tests it conducted revealed that drugs seized from the Manila port matched samples from its recent busts and that following the magnetic lifters incident, shabu sold in the streets is now priced at P1,400 to P1,800 per gram, down from the P6,800 to P8,000 per gram in July.
PDEA’s Aquino said laboratory test results last Aug. 1 in Quezon City, Aug. 26 in Sta. Cruz, Manila and Oct. 1 in Muntinlupa City showed strong similarity to drugs seized from the Manila port.
“Match sila. Highly co-related, similar. Ibig sabihin, iisa ang source (it means there is only one source),” he said.
Lapeña may have been cleared of responsibility in the disappearance of the shabu, but the NBI has brought a graft complaint against him before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Nov. 12 over the loss in March of a shipment of 105 containers of ceramic tiles worth P69 million. The NBI also asked the DOJ to bring administrative charges against Lapeña for gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct over the disappearance of the shipment from the port of Manila. Will the NBI case prosper? If Lapeña is cleared, then why is he untouchable?
Meanwhile, drug busts and extrajudicial killings continue. Wouldn’t it have been much, much easier if government didn’t allow the shabu to get away? I don’t know how to compute how many one-gram shabu is equivalent to the P11.1 billion lost shipment. I only know it translates into an awful lot of shabu now in our streets.
Meanwhile, many alleged pushers and dealers continue to be arrested and killed. After all this time, why have we not found the kingpins?