Former X-ray chief: BOC did not follow SOP in scanning magnetic lifters

Rambo Talabong
Former X-ray chief: BOC did not follow SOP in scanning magnetic lifters
The former X-ray chief of the Bureau of Customs says the current operators did not follow the SOP for X-rays that would have led to the physical examination of the magnetic lifters

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) failed to follow standard operating procedures in scanning the 4 magnetic lifters believed to be previously packed with shabu (methamphetamine), no less than the Customs’ former X-ray chief Lourdes Mangaoang said on Wednesday, September 26.

“It is SOP that if we see the image indicates that there are still items there (shipment) with compartments inside or hollow inside, we automatically subject it to physical examination, if they are properly trained,” Mangaoang said before the Senate blue ribbon committee probing the P6.8-billion missing shabu.

Flashing photos from the current BOC officials, she said that the magnetic lifters were obviously hollow, and would need a physical examination to see if anything was packed inside—possibly contraband.

Scanning at the BOC works like this: The shipment is scanned by the X-ray operator, and if they find anything “suspect,” they can call for an examiner to physically go through the shipment.

“If you are well-trained, well-experienced operator, you automatically request the examiner to examine it physically,” said Mangaoang.

She, however, did not cite any BOC internal documents mentioning these procedures. (READ: Empty or shabu-packed? X-ray scans of magnetic lifters revealed)

SAMPLE PSEUDOCOLOR. The X-ray scan, Mangaoang says, shows that the items inside are hollow and would need physical examination. Courtesy of House Committee on Dangerous Drugs

So far, the BOC officials said this physical examination is only reserved when what is declared in a shipment’s forms does not match with the image from their scans.

For example, when the shipment forms declare a magnetic lifter but they see metallic cranes inside.

Mangaoang’s testimony also contradicts the statements of current X-ray chief Zsae de Guzman, particularly in the use of different filter settings for the Customs’ X-ray scanners.

De Guzman said in an earlier House probe into the missing shabu that X-ray operators use the scan settings that produce images “friendly to their eyes.” This filter used most of the time, she earlier said, is the colorless greyscale scan.

For Mangaoang, however, operators should use different settings for better chances of tracking contraband. She said the operators should have used the pseudocolor setting instead of the greyscale. This pseudocolor scan was earlier described by De Guzman as giving “different effects.”

Mangaoang claimed that if she had performed the scan herself, she would have concluded “100%” that the lifters contained “things” inside. (TIMELINE: The search for P6.8-B shabu ‘smuggled’ into PH)

As to what they are, she said she leaves it up to the continuing investigation of BOC, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Senate panel. –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.