Athletes as intel? Customs priorities questioned

Bea Cupin
Athletes as intel? Customs priorities questioned
Congressmen find Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon hired athletes, coaches, collegiate players to represent the customs bureau in an inter-government league

MANILA, Philippines – Edward Joseph “EJ” Feihl is known mostly for a fairly long career in amateur and professional basketball.

But some time in late 2016, Feihl added to his list of accomplishments an apparent stint at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) as member of the Intelligence Group.

Feihl is among several individuals whom the BOC, under the leadership of Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, were hired and placed under different officers. The list includes retired athletes, coaches, and even collegiate superstars. 

One of their apparent roles was to represent the bureau in sporting tournaments, including an amateur basketball league between government agencies and a semi-pro volleyball league.

Faeldon himself confirmed this during a congressional hearing that lasted until late evening Wednesday, August 2. He said he approved the hiring of the athletes to help boost the bureau’s image by means of their participation in sporting events.

At a ways and means committee hearing at the House of Representatives, Batangas Representative Raneo Abu showed a Customs Special Order which delgated Faeldon’s chief-of-staff lawyer Mandy Therese Anderson as the authorized signatory for the daily time record of the following “Customs personnel”:

  1. Kenneth Duremdes – Office of the Commissioner 
  2. Marlo Aquino – Office of the Commissioner 
  3. Dave Arguelles – Office of the Commissioner 
  4. Dante Canaway – Office of the Commissioner 
  5. Edward Joseph Feihl – Intelligence Group
  6. Ronjay Enreli – Intelligence Group
  7. Gherome Ejercito – Intelligence Group
  8. Bong dela Cruz – Intelligence Group
  9. Ed Bundoc – Intelligence Group
  10. Mark Mabazza – Intelligence Group
  11. Rizal Vonn C Ignacio – Intelligence Group
  12. Samuel Ignacio – Intelligence Group
  13. Berzon Franco – Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group 
  14. Michael Anthony Sumalinog – Import and Assessment Service 
  15. Parley Tupaz – Office of the Commissioner 
  16. Sherwin Meneses – Office of the Commissioner 
  17. Allysa Valez – Office of the Commissioner 
  18. Marlin Llagoso – Intelligence Group 
  19. Carl Bryan Vitug – Intelligence Group
  20. Danielle Michiko Castaneda – Intelligence Group
  21. Menchie Tubera – Intelligence Group
  22. Andrea Marzan – Intelligence Group
  23. Rizza Jane Mandapat – Intelligence Group
  24. Jonalyn Ibisa – Intelligence Group
  25. Fenela Risha Emnas – Intelligence Group
  26. Joshue Esguerra – Intelligence Group
  27. Jonah Joy Corpuz – Intelligence Group
  28. Cyrine Gonzaga – Intelligence Group

Faeldon signed Customs Special Order Number 58-2016 on September 27, 2016.

Abu, speaking to media on Thursday, August 3, said “from out of nowhere” someone sent them lists of people hired by the BOC under Faeldon.

“I was surprised because these employees that they hired, we played basketball against them during the [UNTV cup],” said Abu, referring to a league where various government branches and bureaus participate.

While legislators did not say outright that hiring of athletes was wrong, ways and means committee chairman Quirino Representative Dakila Cua questioned the “priorities” of the bureau, which has long been perceived as among the most corrupt in the Philippine bureaucracy.

“Maybe the question here is: what are the BOC’s priorities?” Cua told reporters on Wednesday.

“Is forming a basketball team part of the bureau’s mandate? If those hired as also officially performing as intel officers, there’s no problem,” he added.

Abu, meanwhile, pointed out the apparent hypocrisy in Faeldon’s criticism of Congress.

“Let’s not speak as if the entire institution, the entirety of Congress, is corrupt…that endorsing someone is a form of corruption. But I wonder now, is your outsmarting of a small league, isn’t that corruption?” said Abu.

The legislator explained that in the UNTV Cup, teams are allowed to bring in “imports” – players who are not employees of a particular government agency – but may only play a maximum of 3 at a time. But employing a person who happens to have been a collegiate or retired professional player skirts those limitations.

Abu asked the bureau for documents that would prove the new hires’ qualifications for their designated posts. Some of those on the list are no longer customs employees. The length of their stint in the bureau was unclear. 

Faeldon has been under scrutiny the past few days, following congressional probes into how P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China were able to get past through the bureau back in May. – 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.