The problem with Customs chief Faeldon

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Ricardo Saludo

IT seemed like Goliath vs David: the verbal joust between House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and twenty something lawyer Mary Therese Anderson, top aide of Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, over her Facebook post calling the fourth-highest official in the land an “imbecile” for threatening to abolish the Court of Appeals.

Press and public rooted even more for the underdog when House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas accused Faeldon and Anderson of leaking her name-calling to ignite a media spat covering up a scheduled House of Representatives hearing on the smuggling in May of 605 kilograms of banned methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, worth ₱6.4 billion.

Many wondered if the House was out to pressure Faeldon for jobs in the Bureau of Customs when the BoC hires 3,000 new staff this year and another 4,000 in 2018. Politicians have been known to wangle revenue posts for their underlings.Faeldon and Gascon should be sacked or carried out of office.

Despite 6 billion in shabu, no charges
Then the August 1 hearing of the House committee on dangerous drugs, chaired by Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, got going. And what started out as a petty spat with Congress bullying Customs turned far more serious and disturbing.


Based on testimony by officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Faeldon committed grave mistakes and even illegal acts in seizing the shabu from two Valenzuela warehouses used by Taiwan businessman and narcotics suspect Richard Tan. And those unforced errors let Tan off the hook.

The biggest failing was using a letter of authority signed by Faeldon to seize the drugs, instead of a search and seizure warrant. The LOA is only for getting importers to show that correct duties and taxes were paid. For search and seizure, a warrant is needed.

Faeldon and his people should have known this after many raids over the past year on all manner of items, including smuggled rice last October, sex toys in January, and fake products in May, just days before the shabu was seized.

Having been taken with no proper warrant, the drugs would be ruled inadmissible in court, collapsing the criminal case — if there were one. Inexplicably, Faeldon never filed a case against Tan.

By contrast, suspects in other raids were immediately questioned in an inquest, then charged soon after. They certainly did not take pictures smiling with the raiding officials, as Tan did with Faeldon.

With no case to answer, Tan left the country in late July. Scot-free despite 605 kg of illegal drugs shipped to his warehouses.

Besides screwing up the illegal drugs charge, Faeldon violated the Dangerous Drugs Act by excluding PDEA from the raid, which was conducted by the BoC and the National Bureau of Investigation.

By law, PDEA should be told of any drug bust, and all dope seized should be turned over to it. Faeldon gave the agency only 100 kg, and turned over the rest of the haul to the NBI.

Gross negligence or collusion?
Committee chairman Barbers saw two explanations for Faeldon’s miscues: incompetence or collusion. Whichever the reason for the wrongful acts, congressmen wanted Faeldon out.

Putting on this writer’s old hat as former Civil Service Commission chair, one can see a host of grave administrative offenses committed by. Faeldon. Using the wrong document to seize the goods would be gross neglect of duty — punishable by dismissal — as well as conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, since that oversight would have lost the case in court.

Failing to comply with the legal requirement to alert PDEA and turn over all the shabu to it would be grave misconduct — also punishable by dismissal — if done despite knowledge of the law, or at least inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties, for which officials are demoted.

Now, if a relationship or connection is shown between Tan and Faeldon or people to the commissioner, then the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act may come in.

What makes it hard to treat Faeldon with leniency is the many other administrative offenses he is alleged to have committed as BoC head.

As Customs insiders tell it, Faeldon has hired dozens of contractual staff, who are not qualified for plantilla positions at theBoC. What breaks the rules is assigning these casuals to enforce alert orders, which only government personnel can do.

Such mission orders given to contractual staff would lead to the criminal charge of usurpation of authority, punishable by six months’ imprisonment for every function assigned to and performed by unauthorized staff.

What’s worse, if any alert order leads to the discovery of contraband or illegal acts, no charges can be filed, since the casual staff implementing the order are not empowered to do so. They can’t even file reports on what happened.

So, not only is there usurpation of authority, but also grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, since violations of law caught in implementing alert orders, cannot be reported by the contractual enforcing the orders.

The whiff of corruption
But never mind the civil service rules and the legal requirements of raids and seizures. The greater question and issue for Faeldon and the fellow Magdalo ex-mutineers he put in top BoC positions is whether they are doing the job for which President Rodrigo Duterte appointed them.

Are they stopping the flow of drugs?

As top cop Gen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa has observed, shabu is still on streets, but the high purity of the stuff being sold, plus the closure of meth labs in the country, point to imports as the main source of shabu.

Plainly, the drugs are still coming in big.

The other bar that top officials, especially appointees of President Duterte must clear, is having not even the whiff of corruption. That odor in the Austrian fire engine contract cost even a longtime Duterte ally, Ismael Sueno, the local governments Cabinet post.

Now, is there a whiff of corruption in the actuations of Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, especially in the Valenzuela shabu raid?

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