• DUTERTE: ‘I BELIEVE IN HIS INTEGRITY’

    Faeldon vows to pursue reforms in Customs

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    Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon vowed on Wednesday to continue cleaning up the graft-ridden Bureau of Customs amid calls for him to quit for allegedly letting slip past Customs P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China.

    Also on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte gave Faeldon a public vote of confidence, telling reporters “I believe in his integrity.”

    EMBATTLED Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon (right) testifies before an inquiry into the alleged smuggling of illegal drugs from China on Wednesday at the House of Representatives. PHOTO BY RUY L. MARTINEZ

    Faeldon, a former marine captain and mutineer, showed newfound confidence in a news briefing, saying the President told him to “stay put” following a meeting in Malacañang on Tuesday afternoon.

    Members of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, headed by Surigao Rep. Ace Barbers, have demanded Faeldon’s resignation, after 604 kilos of methamphetamine hydrochloride, popularly known as “shabu,” valued at
    P6.4 billion got out of Customs in May without being detected.

    Faeldon stressed that he would relinquish his post only if the President asked him to do so.

    “I am a good soldier and I’m committed to finish my mission to reform the Bureau of Customs,” Faeldon said.

    “I can look anybody in the eyes,” Faeldon said, as he reiterated that he took full responsibility for the entry of shabu from China.

    Still, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd said the Department of Finance would call for its own investigation into the alleged smuggling of illegal drugs.

    “Of course [we will have our own investigation]. It is better to do this in sequence, so we are going to start it],” Dominguez told reporters at the sidelines of the 113th anniversary of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, where Duterte publicly backed Faeldon.

    Juicy posts

    In the same news conference, Faeldon took a swipe at some elected officials for recommending people to juicy Customs posts. He did not name names, but said he was willing to do so in a closed-door session.

    “It is used as payment for political debt. It is used as milking cow by whoever. If we will continue to do that, it’s going to fail. Stop that practice,” he said.

    Earlier, it was revealed that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez sought to promote a Customs official, but this was denied because the person was not qualified for promotion.

    Faeldon assured everyone, including friends and associates of the President and members of the administration PDP-Laban party, of fair play.

    “You don’t need to go there and ask me to facilitate your trade because the mandate of the bureau is trade facilitation,” he said.

    Sacked Customs exec denies liability

    At the House of Representatives, sacked Customs employee Larribert Hilario denied any liability for his office’s supposed failure to raise a red flag on a shipment containing P6.4 billion worth of illegal drugs.

    Hilario, former chief of the Risk Management Office who was relieved from his post in June, made the statement at the resumption of the House probe into the drug shipment.

    “My office does not have the authority to clear a shipment,” he said.

    At the time the drugs were smuggled into the country, Hilario was officer in charge (OIC) of the bureau’s Command Center, which has the authority to issue an alert order on suspicious shipments.

    Hilario pinned the blame on the Import Assessment Service (IAS) Unit that determines the value of the shipment, saying the unit ignored his request for a list of new importers from December 2016 to May 2017.

    Hilario said he smelled monkey business concerning the shipments under EMT Trading because of their identical tax dues worth P40,000 for each shipment. This was on May 22, a day before the drugs slipped past Customs scrutiny.

    Customs officials were able to seize the shabu in a Valenzuela warehouse on May 26.

    “The importations should have been put on hold and there should have been physical examinations. All the contents of the container, they would have been opened and examined if they were declared correctly,” Hilario said.

    Faeldon maintained that he made the right call in sacking Hilario.

    “Based on our initial investigation, you (Hilario) have neglected your duty because you failed to enter the data parameters that would have enabled us to flag EMT which is a new importer and falls under sole proprietorship,” Faeldon said.

    The lawmakers did not buy the Customs’ officials excuses and countered Faeldon over his claim that the bureau was riddled with corruption because of lawmakers’ meddling.

    “If you are really serious about your claims, you should file a case so that you don’t damage the institution,” House ways and means panel chief Rep. Dakila Cua of Quirino said.

    Rep. Bingbong Crisologo of Quezon City also chided Faeldon for getting legal advice from his fiancée, who was with him during the Customs raid.

    “If you listen to your girlfriend, why can’t you listen to us? We are trusted by our people,” Crisologo added.
    Rep. Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur admitted that he, too, made a recommendation in the Customs Bureau but maintained that it wasn’t illegal.

    “I have recommended one. But that doesn’t mean that he is not qualified. There is nothing wrong when you are recommending,” Pichay added.

    with  LLANESCA T. PANTI AND MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO

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