Senate leaves nagging questions for House in P6.8-B shabu probe

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Just a day after the Senate blue ribbon committee finished a session in its probe into the missing P6.8-billion shabu (methamphetamine) allegedly stuffed inside 4 magnetic lifters found in Cavite, the House committee on dangerous drugs and committee on good government began their joint investigation.

Chaired by Surigao 2nd District Representative Robert Ace Barbers and Camiguin Representative Xavier Romualdo, the House panels on Thursday, September 27, is expected to continue with where the Senate panel – led by Senator Richard Gordon – had ended.

The Senate blue ribbon committee on Wednesday, September 26, found more questions than answers while digging for clarity in the shabu mess.

Rappler breaks down what has been established so far, and what still needs to be answered.

Billion-peso question: Was there shabu? 

During the first part of Wednesday's Senate probe, Gordon quizzed the personnel of the warehouse where the magnetic lifters were found.

The magnetic lifters were delivered to the warehouse on July 14. On July 15, 6 Chinese-looking personalities came to the warehouse and were helped out by the maintenance personnel in loading the hardware into the storage facilities. (TIMELINE: The search for P6.8-B shabu 'smuggled' into PH)

STILL SEARCHING. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino inspects an empty magnetic lifter found in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. PDEA photo

STILL SEARCHING. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino inspects an empty magnetic lifter found in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.

PDEA photo

During Gordon's interpellation, Eric Rodelas, the maintenance man of the warehouse, disclosed that he saw a grinder being brought out by one of the Chinese-looking men before he was dismissed from helping and prevented from coming back by two others.

With this, Gordon said he was convinced that the magnetic lifters were actually packed with drugs, given the circumstantial evidence and despite the negative swab test pointing to the absence of the drugs.

Barbers, at least in the past hearings, has not yet made a conclusion on whether there were illegal drugs in the containers.

Connivance of BOC? 

INVOLVED? Bureau of Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban during the continuation of the Senate hearing P6.8 billion shabu shipment on September 26, 2018. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

INVOLVED? Bureau of Customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban during the continuation of the Senate hearing P6.8 billion shabu shipment on September 26, 2018.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Senate, so far through the recommendation of Gordon, detained Customs Intelligence Officer Jimmy Guban inside the Senate premises in Pasay City.

Guban was allegedly behind the consignee-for-hire scheme in the shipment of the magnetic lifters, wherein consignee SMYD Trading owner Marina Signapan claimed she was paid to allow her company to be used to receive the shipment.

Signapan earlier claimed that the shipment she received may have contained contraband, and it was a certain Joel Maritana who paid her to receive them.

Guban allegedly set up Maritana, a welder and scavenger from Bacoor, to be the "fall guy" of Signapan so that she comes clean.

With this, Gordon noted similarities with the shabu found in 2017 which amounted to P6.4 billion. In that controversy, the trading company EMT allowed itself to be the consignee for a questionable shipment in exchange for a fee. (READ: Patterns emerge in 2017, 2018 shabu probes)

Mystery man: Eduardo Acierto

NAMED HANDLER. Sacked police senior superintendent Eduardo Acierto attends Senate probe into missing P6.8-billion shabu. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

NAMED HANDLER. Sacked police senior superintendent Eduardo Acierto attends Senate probe into missing P6.8-billion shabu.

Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

During the previous Senate hearing, Guban named his "handler": dismissed Senior Superintendent Eduardo Acierto, who was present in Wednesday's Senate probe.

It remains unclear what Acierto's involvement in the case is, but Gordon is not immediately nailing him as a suspect.

Acierto is a veteran police anti-drug operative, being the deputy director of the controversial and now-defunct police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group which was dissolved after a pack of its men were linked to the killing of South Korean Jee Ick Joo in national police headquarters Camp Crame.

Prior to that, Acierto was part of the police firearms licensing office, where he was found to have allegedly been involved in the anomalous issuance of AK-47 rifles firearms licenses from August 2011 to April 2013. 

Before Acierto could dive into details on what he knew of the missing shabu and his role in its tracking, the probe hearing was suspended to give Gordon time to catch up to the Senate's regular session.

Barbers told Rappler in a text message that Acierto has been invited to attend Thursday's House probe. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

image