Legislators grill Faeldon, Customs on 3rd consecutive day

Bea Cupin
Legislators grill Faeldon, Customs on 3rd consecutive day
Legislators – this time during a House ways and means committee hearing – continue grilling Customs officials over how billions of shabu made it past the bureau

MANILA, Philippines – A day after being summoned by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and his agency were again the subject of scrutiny by lawmakers on Wednesday, August 2.

For the third consecutive day, Faeldon and his subordinates faced lawmakers, this time members of the House of Representatives’ ways and means committee, still over how billions of shabu were able to get past the express lane of the bureau.

The illegal drugs were later seized by bureau agents from a Valenzuela warehouse on May 26.

On August 1, Duterte called Faeldon to Malacañang. His boss, Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, was also present during the meeting. After the meeting, the Palace said in the statement that Faeldon remains to have the “trust and confidence” of Duterte.

But his chief allies in the House of Representatives did not seem to share the same sentiment.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez questioned Faeldon’s creation of a Command Center in the bureau. The ComCen, as the commission calls it, has the sole authority in issuing alert orders that lead to the inspection of flagged shipments.

“Why is it that way? You cannot make up a process without an administrative order coming from the Secretary of Finance. You are not authorized to do it,” said Alvarez.

O, sinong bright ang nag-recommend sa iyo? Nasaan na yung mga advisers mo? Wag naman, sabihin mo na naman mamaya yung fiancée mo ha (Oh, who’s the bright person who recommended this? Where are your advisers? Don’t tell me it’s your fiancee again),” quipped Alvarez.

Another key house ally, House Majority Leader Representative Rudy Fariñas, criticized the bureau for apparent cracks that would make it easy for smugglers to get away scot-free.

Nakita niyo kung paano kayo nauutakan ng mga smuggler (Can you see how smugglers are able to outsmart you)?” asked Fariñas, after Customs Director Milo Maestrecampo explained why he was not liable for failing to flag the shipment in question.

‘Missing’ Customs official

A Customs official who was “nowhere to be found” during the August 1 Senate hearing showed up during the Wednesday House hearing. Suspended Risk Management Officer Larribert Hilario, who was assigned officer-in-charge of the ComCen from May 15 to 19, 2017, denied wrongdoing on his part.

After his stint as OIC, Hilario said he was “alarmed” by the sheer number of import entries signed by Teejay Marcellana, a Customs broker. Import entries under EMT Trading particularly surprised Hilario, who alerted CenCom. Hilario claimed only Maestrecampo could issue alert orders, an allegation the altter denied.

Hilario said his alert went unnoticed and the shipment was released on May 23 – without undergoing physical inspection. EMT, it turns out, was a new company and should not have been allowed to go through the “Super Green” or express lane – where shipments are no longer inspected.

Both EMT proprietor Eirene Mae Tatad and Customs broker Mark Ruben Taguba said they did not know that the shipment contained shabu.

Malacañang meeting

Faeldon has been under fire the past few days, with several legislators – including Alvarez – calling for his resignation. In response, Faeldon said it was up to his appointing authority or Duterte himself, to decide on his fate.

While the Palace said Faeldon continues to enjoy the President’s trust, Dominguez said the department would investigate the case themselves once Congressional hearings are done.

Asked if Faeldon was completely off-the-hook, Dominguez said “nobody is safe, even me.”

Senators had earlier grilled Faeldon and the bureau over the anomalous shipment. Some senators raised the possibility of “connivance” between the Customs bureau and Chinese nationals in the smuggling of the drugs.

The ongoing saga of Faeldon and the bureau touches on two key promises of the Duterte administration – to eradicate the threat of illegal drugs and stamp out all forms of corruption in government.

Several Duterte appointees, including close friends of the President’s, had earlier been unceremoniously sacked over allegations of corruption.

Faeldon himself requested Duterte to conduct “thorough investigation” of the issue.

Even personal aspects of the commissioner and his aide’s lives have been dragged into hearings. Fariñas earlier grilled Faeldon’s chief-of-staff, lawyer Mandy Mercado Anderson, for a Facebook post wherein she called Alvarez an imbecile.

During the August 2 hearing, Faeldon was also asked about his fiancee – whom he had earlier admitted to have gotten legal advice from – who apparently had a short stint in the bureau. Faeldon, a former captain in the Marines, said Atty. Magsuci, his fiancee, was employed in the bureau from July 1 to August 16, 2016. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.