THE Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday ended its investigation of the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China and will shift its focus to the “tara” (payoff) system disclosed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson in a recent privilege speech.
Committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said with the termination of the inquiry into the illegal-drug cargo, the committee would be releasing its report based on information gathered by the panel during the nine hearings it held.
“I will close the meeting on drugs but will not abandon our pursuit of the resolution of cases filed with respect to drugs,” Gordon added as he terminated the shabu shipment probe.
The Senate blue ribbon panel started its investigation of the illegal shipment in July upon filing by Gordon of Senate Resolution 425.
During the course of the hearings, the panel managed to uncover the multimillion-peso payoff system at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) that played a major role in allowing the entry of illegal items including prohibited drugs into the country without being detected by the bureau.
It was learned that the shipment containing shabu passed through the “green lane,” or the lane where imported products are not subjected to inspection.
Other lanes include the “super green lane,” the “blue lane,” the “yellow lane” and the “red lane.”
The illegal shipment containing 605 kilos of shabu arrived in the country on May 16 and was declared in the BoC’s Electronic-To-Mobile (E2M) Import Assessment System as kitchenware.
Importer EMT Trading owned by a certain Eirene Tatad paid a total of P40,038 in taxes and on May 18 the cargo was released to the green lane even though the consignee was registered as a new importer and the cargo came from China.
Under the BoC selection system, shipments originating from China automatically go through the red lane and require inspection.
On May 23, the cargo left the Manila International Container Port using the trucking service provided by Customs “fixer” Mark Taguba.
Three days after the release of the shipment, the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service led by its Director Neil Estrella raided a warehouse in Valenzuela City owned by Chinese businessman Richard Chen (Chen Ju Long) and seized the shabu contained inside five cylinders.
There were no charges filed against those involved in the illegal shipment and investigation only started when the Senate conducted its own inquiry into the shipment.
Several names were mentioned during the course of the hearing including BoC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who was later accused by Lacson of being involved in the corruption at Customs.
Taguba, in one of the hearings, claimed that he has to shell out P27,000 to P30,000 per container for payoff on top of legitimate fees amounting to P81,000 to make sure that his cargoes would be released without delays.
Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and brother-in-law Manases Carpio were also invited to the hearings after
their names were mentioned by Taguba.
Taguba told the Senate panel that he gave P5 million to Davao City Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera as one-time enrolment fee for him to be under the protection of the so-called Davao Group at the BoC.
Duterte, Carpio and Abellera denied their links to the group.
Rampant corruption activities at the Customs prompted Lacson to dig deeper into the issue and was able to obtain information that put Faeldon at the center of the controversy.
In a privilege speech entitled “Kita Kita,” the senator named Faeldon as among those receiving payoffs at the Customs bureau and allegedly received P100 million as “welcome gift” when he assumed as head of the BoC in July 2016.
Lacson identified in his speech other officials and personnel of Customs who are on the take and private individuals who were giving “payola.”
Gordon said he is eyeing several remedial measures that would stop the entry of illegal drugs into the country, including the possible enactment of a law that would require a pre-shipment inspection of all cargoes.
Such policy could effectively stop illegal cargoes from even leaving the port of origin.
Currently there is an existing pre-shipment inspection system in place at the BoC but it only covers bulk and break-bulk cargo.
The senator wants to make the policy into a law so that it cannot be easily repealed when a new administration takes over.
Gordon is eyeing amendments to existing laws that will strictly require arresting authorities to immediately report drug seizures and destruction of seized or confiscated drugs to prevent the drugs from being recycled.
He is considering enactment of a measure that will authorize seizure and immediate issuance of freeze orders on assets of arrested drug lords.
Gordon has set the next hearing for September 25 and the panel will focus on the corruption at the Customs bureau.
“We will cross over to our next investigation on the privilege speech of Senator Lacson. We will continue to pursue that [drugs]even if we terminated this case. We want to make sure that we win in the fight against drugs,” he said.