Like Senate, House panels clear Lapeña in shabu smuggling

Mara Cepeda
While two House committees clear former Bureau of Customs chief Isidro Lapeña, they recommend criminal charges against several others linked to the smuggling

CLEARED. Two House committees clear former Bureau of Customs chief Isidro Lapeña in the multibillion-peso shabu smuggling controversy. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Two House committees do not find former Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner Isidro Lapeña liable over the billions of pesos worth of shabu smuggled into the country under his term.

The committee report of the House panels on dangerous drugs, and good government and public accountability, which was approved on Wednesday, February 6, is similar to the report of the Senate blue ribbon committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon.

Both reports tackled the separate investigations of the House and the Senate into the intercepted P2.4-billion shabu shipment and the “missing” shabu worth P11 billion last year. (READ: ‘All circumstances’ show magnetic lifters packed with shabu – Barbers)

The House committee report did say corrupt practices in the BOC during Lapeña’s time made the country’s ports “vulnerable” to smuggling.

But lawmakers merely recommended a “deeper probe” into the matter to be conducted by the appropriate House panel.

Following the congressional investigations, President Rodrigo Duterte transferred Lapeña to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as its director general, a Cabinet post.

Some lawmakers had slammed Lapeña’s transfer, saying the latter’s “promotion” was aimed to protect him from the findings of the congressional investigations. (READ: At the Bureau of Customs: How Isidro Lapeña was outplayed)

Who could face charges instead? Lawmakers recommended the filing of criminal charges against the following for violating Section 4 on the importation of dangerous drugs under Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002:

  • Former BOC intelligence officer Jimmy Guban
  • Dismissed cop Eduardo Acierto
  • Sacked Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency deputy director general for administration Ismael Fajardo
  • Vedasto Cabral Baraquel Jr, owner of Vecaba Trading, the importer of the abandoned magnetic lifters containing P2.4 billion worth of shabu at the Manila International Container Port

The House panels also want to “investigate and file appropriate charges” against BOC employees Katrina Cuasay, Dolores Domingo, Marina Signapan, and Port of Manila district collector Vener Baquiran “for violation of BOC policy against ‘sectioning.'” (READ: LIST: Over 40 face drug charges for multibillion-peso shabu shipments)

What else did the committee report say? The other recommendations of the two House committees are:

  • “Gather direct evidence” on the existence of illegal drugs in the 4 magnetic lifters found in a warehouse in Cavite in August 2018.
  • Issue standard operating procedures for the BOC’s x-ray examinations of unfamiliar material.
  • Modernize BOC x-ray machines.
  • All BOC officers must take a leave of absence or be replaced immediately “to give way for proper reform and/or investigation on the corruption issue.”
  • Investigate and file the appropriate charges against the owners of a RAV4 with plate number ABF 7229 and Ford Expedition with plate number XNX 588, which were allegedly involved in the shabu smuggling.
  • BOC x-ray inspectors should undergo proper training conducted by Nuctech Company and others.
  • There should be “effective monitoring” of the performance of BOC personnel, particularly in the physical inspection of cargo shipment, law enforcement operations, and “all other functions requiring the use of discretion.”

During the hearing, Negros Oriental 3rd District Representative Arnolfo Teves Jr suggested they also recommend the implementation of a “no x-ray, no entry” policy in the BOC for shipments. Nueva Ecija 3rd District Representative Rosanna Vergara also suggested a one-strike policy for BOC personnel.

“It’s like the minute something like this happens again, even if they are protected under civil service…then a one-strike policy [be in place so] that they [will] be removed from government service,” said Vergara.

The House committees accepted the amendments proposed by Teves and Vergara. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.