Clearing shabu shipments while assaulting balikbayan boxes

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

The Bureau of Customs (BoC), in the age of DU30, should be shedding its image as a “flagship of corruption.” After all, Mr. Duterte’s second priority, after his war on drugs, is weeding out corruption. In his two SONAS and in every major public policy forum, Mr. Duterte has been relentlessly driving home that point – corruption has to stop and crooks should either be killed or jailed. DU30 wants to skip the workings of the judicial process on crooks. He prefers the fast and efficient way of getting rid of crooks in public service.

“Reform or die.” That, precisely, was what he said in his recent SONA.

The BoC, it appears, is one corner of the bureaucracy that has placed an earplug to deliberately miss the message of President Duterte on crooks and corruption. The bureau is apparently determined to live by its image of being the flagship of corruption. The daily take of corrupt customs people? It is P270 million a day, a tara (grease, take, bribe money, whatever) so huge it is mind-boggling. That was the estimate of Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Are the entrenched smuggling rings running rings around Mr. Faeldon? Or is Mr. Faeldon a part of the problem? We do not know yet. But this we know. The reputation of Mr. Faeldon as a no-nonsense former Marines is getting tarred and blackened at the corruption flagship whose crooked culture Mr. Faeldon was supposed to change. Congress thinks Mr. Faeldon is part or the problem and should go.


The P6.5 billion worth of shabu from China that breezed through the Customs bureau and hidden in a warehouse in Valenzuela City is a bad script of a classic smuggling run, done with impunity and with no respect whatsoever to the institution called BoC. It was not the first and, definitely, it will not be the last one.

First, EMT Trading, with no importation record whatsoever, was set up for that particular shabu smuggling run. The owner of the trading firm and the customs broker that prepared the shipment papers and helped EMT clear the shipment through the ports sang these lines after the seizure: We were never aware it was shabu.

From time immemorial, that has been the recorded script of importers and brokers of illegal cargo, post-bust. We never knew it was drugs. We never knew it was prohibited merchandise. We never knew it was toxic merchandise etc. etc. I covered the BoC in the 70s and early 80s. That was the script of the people questioned for smuggling deadly and prohibited merchandise. The big change is that the broker in the shabu shipment, a certain Mark Taguba, admitted he has been bribing his “facilitators” at the ports, to the tune of P17 million per quarter. Taguba is just one of the hundreds of licensed customs brokers operating at the country’s major ports.

In violation of inspection and monitoring rules, the green or express lane at the BoC does not process cargo from first-time importers, given the high possibility that the shipment papers are deficient in both form and substance.

EMT got into the green lane because the shabu shipment was a classic smuggling run done via the usual conspiracy: a pre-arranged shipment from a foreign port, a speedy clearance at the port of entry, a group of corrupt/compromised BoC personnel clearing the hot cargo every step of the way. There are no scruples involved in a smuggling run and the conspirators guide a hot cargo through the processing with almost no room for error.

Every step is greased with big, big money.

How can you pass off suspicious merchandise that weighs more than 12 sacks of rice from a first-time importer and from China at that through the green lane without the benefit of the requisite x-ray?

The port of origin is important here. Cargo from China, in both theory and practice, is handled with extra caution. Chinese ports have been the ports of origins of cargo that is often toxic or banned or both.

Records from major shabu busts have shown that the Chinese are 90 percent behind the shabu laboratories raided by the authorities. Whether these labs are at the industrial centers of Valenzuela or in poultry and hog farms in Central Luzon, the chemists and the processors have been mostly Chinese. The ten percent are Taiwanese.

Tons of shabu are slipped into the country from China and these are sneaked into the labs operated by Chinese. There is hardly a deviation from this familiar story.

And what is the BoC’s other main preoccupation when it is not letting shabu slip through its green lanes? Renewing the assault on Balikbayan boxes, which Mr. Aquino started and which was a watershed event for the Aquino administration. The rapid erosion of the support for Mr. Aquino started right after he green lighted the terrible idea of then BoC head Alberto Lina to launch an assault on Balikbayan boxes.

Did Mr. Faeldon miss this piece of recent history? That an assault on balikbayan boxes is an assault on our OFWs, their blood and sweat, their sense of family? Mr. Aquino did a lot of anti-poor, anti-people things but most people did not notice until his administration started taking on balikbayan boxes and treating these boxes like they were vehicles of tax evasion and technical smuggling.

An assault on balikbayan boxes by the BoC, in the context of giving the courtesy lane to shabu smugglers, is an assault on the two main governing planks of DU30 which are protect the people and kill the drug trade with impunity.

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