House panel questions credibility of Customs X-ray inspector

Sofia Tomacruz
House panel questions credibility of Customs X-ray inspector
Lawmakers are dissatisfied with the way Bureau of Customs X-ray inspector John Mar Morales rescanned images of magnetic lifters

MANILA, Philippines – Longtime Bureau of Customs (BOC) X-ray inspector John Mar Morales irked lawmakers at the House of Representatives when he insisted once more that magnetic lifters found in Cavite were empty when they passed through the Manila International Container Port (MICP).

Morales made this claim as the BOC presented its findings comparing the empty magnetic lifters consigned by Vecaba Trading and seized at the MICP, to those of the lifters consigned by SMYD Trading and brought to a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.

Morales said both the MICP and Cavite magnetic lifters were empty.

“Parehong walang laman (Both are empty),” he told the House committee on dangerous drugs as well as committee on good government and public accountability on Wednesday, November 28.

EMPTY? Customs X-ray inspector John Mar Morales shows side-by-side images of empty lifters consigned by Vecaba Trading and those consigned by SMYD Trading. Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

Going further, Morales said the BOC packed one of the lifters consigned by Vecaba Trading with rice, sugar, and tawas or alum placed in plastic storage bags to compare with an empty lifter. The purpose of this was to show the difference between a packed lifter and an empty one.

But lawmakers quickly questioned the way the BOC packed the items as earlier hearings indicated the lifters consigned by Vecaba Trading may have been packed with lead or asbestos. (READ: Customs X-ray machines can’t track shabu wrapped in lead, foil, plastic)

Responding to this, Morales admitted there was no lead or asbestos in the magnetic lifters they rescanned.

STUFFED. Lawmakers question the way the Bureau of Customs packed substances into a lifter for its test. Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

House committee on dangerous drugs chairperson Robert Ace Barbers then criticized Morales for presenting findings from a test that did not replicate the same conditions found to be present when illegal drugs were seized at the MICP last August 7.

“We will not be able to compare and say conclusively there are no drugs if the same circumstances when you discovered the items are not present…. It will indicate a different picture,” Barbers said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Antipolo 2nd District Representative Romeo Acop then told Morales he was losing credibility. He pointed out that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had to seek help from the Department of Public Works and Highways to examine the lifters because it lacked the technical knowledge to do so.

“You’re an expert on X-rays and you’re going to say there’s no lead or asbestos? Your credibility is slowly being eroded…. Salita ka ng salita (You keep talking), you do not even know the appearance of lead or asbestos,” Acop said.

He added, “You’re stating things which are not within your expert knowledge.”

Morales earlier insisted the lifters found in Cavite were empty last October 24. At the time, he said the fuzz seen in scans merely showed “wirings” of the magnetic lifters.

Morales contradicted the claims of his ex-boss, former X-ray chief Lourdes Mangaoang, who said the lifters contained “things,” which are not necessarily illegal drugs.

Lawmakers, though, were not satisfied with the BOC’s findings after Morales’ presentation and said a third party would be needed to examine the images. – Rappler.com 

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.