President Rodrigo Duterte has cleared resigned Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon of any liability over the entry of P6.4 billion worth of illegal drugs from China in May.
The President nonetheless replaced Faeldon, a former Marine captain, with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Isidro Lapeña.
“Faeldon has insisted that he [should]be separated [from the Bureau of Customs]. He does not want to add more trouble in my administration. But I am telling you, he’s clean,” Duterte said in remarks before the Philippine Air Force Dragon Boat Team Tuesday night at the Palace.
“He (Faeldon) told me that he would just leave to save me trouble,” Duterte added.
The P6.4 billion worth of drugs was shipped by Hongfei Philippines from Guangdong, China to EMT Trading. After bypassing Customs, the shipment was stored in a warehouse in Paso de Blas, Valenzuela City before Philippine authorities were tipped by their Chinese counterparts of the contraband, leading to the seizure of the illegal drugs last May 26.
The Faeldon-led Customs bureau was accused by lawmakers and even the PDEA of bungling the raid because they violated the Dangerous Drugs Law, which mandates PDEA to take charge of all dangerous drugs.
Also on Wednesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed in a privilege speech that Faeldon received P100 million as “welcome gift” when he assumed the post of Customs commissioner.
Talking about rampant corruption in Customs, Lacson said that instead of cleansing the bureau by eliminating what has been corrupting the agency – the “tara” system of wholesale bribery – Faeldon allowed himself to be swallowed by the system.
The tara system involved multimillion peso bribes given weekly to several customs officials and employees.
According to the senator, “loud whispers” in the four corners of the Customs compound told of a P100-million “pasalubong” (welcome gift) to the newly installed commissioner last year.
But the amount, he said, did not go to the commissioner entirely because a quarter, or P25 million, was retained as finder’s fee by a middleman, which Lacson identified as Joel Teves.
Faeldon, during a previous hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the P6.4 billion drug shipment from China, admitted he was aware of the so-called tara system even before assuming office, but was helplessly alone in eradicating corruption.
“Tell that to the marines, Mr. Faeldon, but not to this institution,” Lacson said.
In his speech, Lacson cited Customs records showing that on July 1, 2016, Faeldon hired the services of Gerardo Gambala, Milo Maestrecampo, lawyer Mandy Therese Anderson and Henry Anthony Torres as technical assistants, each receiving monthly compensation of P40,000 to P50,000.
Lacson said a “standard tara” or payoff ranged from a low of P19,000 to a high of P45,000, given to Customs officials in the Central Office for each container.
On top of the standard tara paid to the Customs Central Office, officials and employees at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) collected payola in the amount of P14,700 to P23,700 for 40-foot containers. The total payoff for each container thus ranged from P33,700 to P68,700.
Officials at the Port of Manila imposed different rates, ranging from P15,700 to P26,700 per container. Thus the total payola ranged from P34,700 to P71,700.
“For a 20-footer container, an additional P12,200 to P20,700 tara for the Customs officials and employees in the MICP is added to their standard ‘payola,’ or a payola amounting to P31,200 to P65,700,” Lacson said.
The rate was slightly higher at the Port of Manila, which ranged from P32,200 to a high of P68,700.
“From this, the share of each office or person within the bureau can range from a low of P200 to a high of P15,000 per container. Believe it or not, officials from the top offices of the bureau down to those who monitor the gates and X-ray have their share in the tara,” Lacson said.
Paraphrasing William Shakespeare, the senator said: “Hell is empty and all the devils are at the Bureau of Customs.”
Faeldon on Wednesday denied he was a recipient of the tara scheme.
“I have not asked anybody to collect tara for me nor have I accepted any tara from anybody. Again, I have not done any form of corruption in my many years of government service nor tolerated those who tried even in the form of request. No is no,” he said in a statement.
“The country will appreciate if a third-party investigation by a competent body will be conducted so that justice will be served. Just like the Honorable Senator Lacson and the Filipino people, I want the truth to come out,” said Faeldon.
JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL