‘All circumstances’ show magnetic lifters packed with shabu – Barbers

Sofia Tomacruz
‘All circumstances’ show magnetic lifters packed with shabu – Barbers
Lawmakers end the investigation after 5 hearings eyeing recommendations to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act and possible charges against liable officials

MANILA, Philippines – At the conclusion Wednesday, November 28, of its hearings into the P11 billion shabu  (methamphetamine) shipment which slipped pass the port of Manila, members of the House of Representatives were fully convinced it had enough information for a conclusive report.

That is, indeed illegal drugs stuffed in 4 magnetic lifters entered the country with the help of a syndicate inside the Bureau of Customs.

Customs officials, however, stuck to their story that no such thing happened.

House committee on dangerous drugs chair Robert Ace Barbers moved to end its series of hearings.  All in all, the House conducted 5 hours-long hearings – two by the committee on dangerous drugs and another 3 jointly with the committee on good government and public accountability.

Barbers said he personally believed there were illegal drugs packed inside 4 magnetic lifters found in a warehouse in Cavite in August.

On the last day of the hearings, the Custom officials, led by longtime X-ray inspector John Mar Morales,  insisted that the magnetic lifters found in Cavite were empty when they passed through the Manila International Container Port. (READ: House panel questions credibility of Customs X-ray inspector)

 The intransigence of members of Custom irked lawmakers. This led to newly-appointed Customs Director Jeoffrey Tacio conceding to a third party re-examining the scanned x-ray images.

In his opening speech Wednesday, Barbers said a testimony from Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Equipment Director Noel Ilao revealed the lifters found in Cavite were not real but “mere replicas or copies of the real thing.” Ilao said the specifications were far from those of “real and functional” magnetic lifters.

Barbers said “they were made to look like the real thing but were actually used for a different purpose, and that is, to smuggle prohibited drugs.”

“In my opinion, even in the absence of evidence or corpus delicti, there’s nothing for us to say conclusively.  But all the circumstances pointing to tells us that there was really drugs in the shipment,” he told Rappler in a phone call.

CONNIVANCE? Former members of the government's 3 anti-drug agencies are implicated in the alleged smuggling of shabu inside the Philippines. Graphic by Ken Bautista.

Officials involved: During the House investigation, lawmakers highlighted the alleged collusion of law enforcers in arranging for the magnetic lifters to be imported inside the country as well as the alleged incompetence of customs officials.

The probe also saw the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s integrity questioned after its Deputy Director General for Administration Ismael Fajardo was sacked for his suspected involvement in the controversy.

Former BOC intelligence officer Jimmy Guban, who was grilled by lawmakers over his hand in the illegal shipment, also pointed to dismissed cop Eduardo Acierto as the man who got him involved.

Guban said he first met Acierto through Fajardo, who was his classmate at the Philippine College of Criminology. They also coordinating with each other in previous drug busts.

This led Barbers to call Fajardo, Guban, and Acierto a “triumvirate” in the Customs.

What’s next? With the investigation over, Barbers said that the dangerous drugs committee was working on its draft consolidating the probe’s findings and recommendations.

This would be then shared with the committee on good government and public accountability chaired by Camiguin Representative Xavier Romualdo. 

Romualdo said he was considering filing charges for those liable.

Barbers said they wanted the draft to be ready by their next meeting on Wednesday, December 5.

Among the recommendations eyed are amendments to 27 sections of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. (READ: After shabu smuggling, Barbers asks Senate to pass death penalty bill)

Barbers said the House would not issue arrest warrants for Acierto and Fajardo, since Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon has already done so. (READ: Gordon cites 4 witnesses in contempt over absence at shabu probe)

Gordon has yet to close his committee’s probe on the shabu shipment. – Rappler.com

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.