It is not yet known how far up it goes, but officials of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) are definitely involved in the smuggling of 432 kilos of shabu valued at P2 bilion, which was seized by the police in Subic, Zambales, on Aug. 11.
The relief recently of the head of the SBMA Law Enforcement Department is widely attributed to that incident.
Immediately after the seizure, SBMA Chairman Roberto Garcia issued a statement saying the smugglers could have used an entry point other than SBMA. But the nearest entry point next to SBMA is the Port of Manila and Poro Point in La Union.
The chairman also suggested that the contraband may have been brought directly to Subic, but that would entail too much risk for a high-value, although illegal product. The smugglers would have to offload that much drug at sea, ask fishermen to bring the parcels to shore by boats, and hire a truck to transport them to the rented house.
Congressman Jeffrey Khonghun of the First District of Zambales found the idea ridiculous—and infuriating. In a meeting with SBMA officials, the newly elected representative told Garcia point-blank, “Ayosin mo ang SBMA dahil kami ang napuputokan ng mga kabolastogan nyo.”[Get SBMA in order because we suffer from your shenanigans.]
A smugglers’ haven, SBMA presents the safest and fastest way to do it. In April last year, a shipment of 420,000 sacks of rice, weighing 50 kilos each, was unloaded on the free port zone without any hassle. It is a cinch to get a mere 432 kilos through, of course with the collusion of people in charge of port operation and law enforcement.
The chairman also said that SBMA is not Subic, and vice-versa. Indeed, SBMA has been carved out of the former U.S. Naval Base, which used to be the largest American military installation outside Continental United States, while Subic is a municipality of Zambales.
The man doth protest too much though. The drug was seized from a house in Santa Monica in that town, but the place is just a few kilometers from the SBMA gate and thus an ideal place to hide the contraband, prior to its transfer to Metro Manila, from which it could be distributed nationwide.
SBMA officials initially denied complicity in the rice smuggling attempt last year, but they caved in under intense questioning during a Senate committee investigation. One official, Stefani Sano, senior deputy administrator for business and investment, was found to have facilitated the entry and even taken care of the warehousing requirement.
Maybe Garcia is not to blame. He has the responsibility but not the power. Although he introduces himself as chairman, he is just a director, elected by fellow members of the board as temporary presiding officer, at the behest of a Cabinet secretary.
Under the SBMA charter, the President appoints the administrator, who shall serve as ex-officio chairman.
Garcia cannot fire or even reshuffle SBMA executives, who by the way were all appointed by the previous administration, even for the gravest misconduct. Only the administrator can do that, but President Benigno Aquino 3rd, three years into his six-year term, has yet to appoint one.
Clearly, the remedy is to appoint Garcia as administrator. Or if he is not cut out for the job, which seems to be the case, give the post to somebody else.
For quite a long time now nobody’s in charge. That prompts people to suspect the situation is intended that way, to enable somebody from the palace to control activities at SBMA, including smuggling.
It couldn’t be the President. In that rice smuggling attempt, it was he who alerted Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon , no doubt after he was told of it by his own informants.
Criminals use SBMA to smuggle rice and drugs. They impoverish farmers and, worse of all, kill people or consign them to a miserable existence. Either way, the smugglers don’t care.