EQUIPPED with humility, truthfulness and 34 years of public service, Isidro Lapeña, a retired policeman, embarked on a new voyage as the 39th commissioner of the 115-year-old Bureau of Customs (BoC) in August 2017, amid multiple controversies linked to the agency.
Right after he assumed office, the commissioner vowed to dissolve the tradition of corruption at the bureau, which is considered by many as the Philippine government’s most corrupt agency.
To uphold the mandate of the BoC to combat illegal activities, Lapeña also promised to axe dirty brokers and importers who do official business with the agency.
Called “Sid” by his colleagues, the commissioner is recognized as an upright man who has high regard for decency.
According to some officials, Lapeña’s long career as a police officer gained for himself the support of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Involvement in PDEA
In July 2016, Undersecretary Arturo Cacdad Jr. appointed Lapeña as the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
The position enabled Lapeña to organize anti-illegal drug seminars and other activities within several communities, as he cited the need to evaluate them at the barangay (village) level to gradually eradicate the proliferation of illegal drugs.
The establishment of barangay drug-clearing programs and anti-drug abuse councils nationwide sustained the programs.
Simultaneously, the PDEA spearheaded the war on drugs under Lapeña’s leadership, taking over the job of the Philippine National Police.
Similar to his approach at the PDEA, Lapeña said he would enforce a “one-strike policy” against crooked officials at the BoC.
“Do your work. Prove your worth, and I will back you up. But once I receive reports of your involvement in corrupt practices and such reports are validated, I will not think twice [about removing you from the bureau],” he added.
Lapeña has appointed some officials from the PDEA, including Melvin Estoque, who is in charge of accrediting importers; Jeoffrey Tacio, who leads the import assessment service; and Jacquelyn de Guzman for the administration office.
In line with the bureau’s objective to regulate precursors and essential chemicals within its jurisdiction, the commissioner recently issued a protocol on the proper handling of apprehended drugs.
Through a memorandum issued last month, Lapeña ordered suspicious dangerous drugs and convertible preferred equity certificates to be reported to the Customs Anti-Illegal Drugs Task Force, which he ordered to coordinate properly with the PDEA.
Urging BoC personnel to follow the protocol, he said the apprehending officers must also follow the law stated in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
“Let me urge our BoC operatives to be always on tight guard so that we can suppress all drug importations right at the port of entry,” Lapeña added.
“Make way and let the PDEA stand in front because when it comes to drugs, they know better,” he said.
According to the commissioner, the PDEA is also responsible for filing criminal and civil cases related to the violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Acts.
He said the BoC, on the other hand, is in charge of filing criminal and civil cases that stem from violations of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
With the five main collection ports exceeding their target collection for November 2017, the BoC was able to collect P46.47 billion, from P40.239 billion for the same month last year.
“We have been achieving historical collection figures since September but the latest November collection is really a milestone for the BoC, being the highest in the monthly collections ever achieved by the BoC,” Lapena said.
The BoC also recorded its highest daily collections on November 3 at P3.045 billion and on November 10 at P3.839 billion.
“I am really optimistic that by December, the BoC will finally be able to hit, if not surpass, its monthly target. Together with all the ports, we are really hoping that we will achieve this,” Lapeña said.