After shabu shipment bust, Lapeña asks PDEA, PNP to share intel

MANILA, Philippines – Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña on Saturday, August 11, urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to "immediately" share with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) any information on drug shipments to the country.

Lapeña stressed the importance of timely sharing of intelligence information among the 3 government agencies in a news briefing on Saturday, a day after authorities discovered that a big shipment of shabu – estimated at around 1,000-with a value of P6.8 billion – recently got into the country.

"I implore our partner agencies, primarily tasked to prevent and eliminate the presence of illegal drugs in the country to immediately forward any information to us, so our mechanisms can come into play," Lapena said in a press briefing at BOC headquarters in Manila on Saturday.

 On Friday, August 10, PDEA discovered 4 empty magnetic lifters in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. The magnetic lifters were supposed to contain 1,000 kilos of shabu.

The BOC was apparently kept in the dark about the operation. "The Bureau of Customs, being the frontliner in the war against drugs, should have been involved in this operation at the start, and provided with the necessary information in time," Lapeña said.

BOC investigation

Based on the BOC investigation, the big shabu shipment came from Taiwan and arrived at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) on July 11, under the consignee SMYD Trading, and customs broker Katrina Grace Cuasay.

SMYD Trading is owned by Marina dela Cruz Signapan.

The magnetic lifters were tagged red – meaning, they only had to go through a non-intrusive X-ray – because the shipment was declared as is: magnetic scrap lifters. This means it went through normal procedure at the BOC. 

On July 14, the shipment passed the examination with no discrepancies found. They were released on the same day. 

The BOC chef said the first time he received information from PDEA with "the full details of the shipment was only on August 4," and that he ordered that the container be put on hold then.

On Friday, August 10, the magnetic scrap lifters were then found in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez in Cavite emptied, and confirmed by PDEA's drug-sniffing dogs to have contained drugs.

PDEA's explanation

Asked why PDEA did not share the information regarding the shabu shipment with the BOC right away, PDEA Spokespoerson Derrick Carreon said  they only received the intelligence report on the shipment on July 16, or two days after the 4 magnetic lifters were released by the BOC.  

From July 18 onwards, Carreon said representatives from PDEA, PNP, and BOC had several meetings to discuss this shipment.

In a statement sent to Rappler, PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said PDEA and the PNP also had to verify the information they received before relaying it to the BOC.

“PDEA and PNP initially received a raw data, and these should all be processed. All info should be subjected to validation. Once it's complete then we can share intelligence which are confirmed and reliable. We can't share informations that are considered as hearsay," Aquino said.

On August 7, PDEA and BOC  presented to the media 500 kilograms of shabu inside similar magnetic scrap lifters recovered in an abandoned container in MICP. Although no official links have been found, Lapeña said it was highly possible that they are related. 

The PDEA believed that the international drug group Golden Triangle Syndicate was behind the shipment. 

Meanwhile, Lapeña ordered the revocation of the accreditation of SMYD Trading, and the recommendation of administrative relief of MICP Director Vener Baquiran. 

He has also ordered that all abandoned containers in MICP and other ports be opened for inspection. 

During the news briefing, Lapeña reiterated the BOC's "firm resolve" to fight illegal drugs.

Lapeña was appointed BOC chief in August 2017, months after authorities seized the controversial P6.4-billion shabu shipment in a Valenzuela City warehouse. The shipment got into the country through the MICP, and became became the subject of congressional inquiries, and separate probes by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice.(TIMELINE: How P6.4-B worth of shabu was smuggled into PH from China) – Rappler.com