MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The lead anti-drug agencies of the Philippines scramble as they find empty giant magnetic lifters suspected to have been used as containers to transport a ton of shabu (methamphetamine) worth P11 billion (earlier estimated to be worth P6.8 billion).
The slip has been a big hit on President Rodrigo Duterte’s landmark anti-drug campaign.
As Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Director General Aaron Aquino has put it: while law enforcers are breaking their backs seizing grams of illegal drugs out in Philippine streets, hundreds of kilograms continue to be smuggled back in.
The story is not simply about the discovery of empty lifters and the search for illegal drugs, however. Lawmakers, in fact, have already seen similar patterns in the 2018 case and the 2017 P6.4-billion shabu smuggling controversy.
Rappler traces and plots the events related to the shipment of the controversial 4 magnetic lifters found empty at a warehouse in Cavite.
Dexter Francisco, a real estate broker, is reached through OLX.ph by a certain Fong looking for a warehouse in the Philippines. Francisco works in a real estate brokerage with a certain Celia Arciaga.
Francisco and Arciaga meet with Fong at Carmona, Cavite, then proceed to warehouse-hunting in Biñan and Sta Rosa in Laguna, then in GMA, Cavite.
Accompanied by a certain Wang, Fong meets with the owners of the Cavite warehouse located at Lot 1-8 in CRS Compound in Barangay F. Reyes, General Mariano Alvarez: Robert and Vicenta Cantemprate.
Wang pays a P50,000 (936$) reservation fee and instructs the Cantemprates to “fast-track” the preparation of the contract.
The warehouse deal is consummated on this day, according to broker Francisco.
The PDEA receives “raw information” about illegal drugs entering the Philippines.
The 4 magnetic lifters arrive at the Manila International Container Port from Taiwan.
11:16 am: Customs-accredited broker Katrina Grace Cuasay files goods declaration for the shipment, naming SMYD Trading as its consignee. The entry reference number is C-185143.
The contents of the shipment are described in the declaration as “magnetic lifter”, Customs spokesman Erastus Austria would later say in a press briefing.
The shipment first passes through the Customs entry processing unit for verification of documents, and then the Customs Risk Management Office, which tags the shipment as red.
4:22 pm: Customs examiner computes P157,673 ($2,951) in taxes and duties that importer SMYD should pay.
4:26 pm: Customs appraiser completes the final assessment of the shipment.
11:05 am: SMYD pays the shipment’s tax and duty fees; the Customs arrestre (handling) operator gets notified of the payment minutes after.
7:36 am: The shipment passes through X-ray, with the inspector not finding anything suspicious about the shipment. As the shape of the contents point to magnetic lifters as declared, the inspector clears it. (READ: Customs X-ray machines can’t track shabu wrapped in lead, foil, plastic)
Handling fees are paid by SMYD after the X-ray.
9:44 am: Container is released from the MICT.
The trailer truck is seen arriving at the CRS Compound in GMA, Cavite by compound personnel.
8 am to 9 am: Angelo Ramilo, a forklift operator, assists 6 Chinese-looking personalities in taking out the 4 magnetic lifters from the shipment container and bringing them to the warehouse. He is paid P27,000 ($505) just for the short service.
Outside, after the transaction, Ramilo hears the sound of grinding inside the warehouse.
The PDEA discovers only at this time that the large shabu shipment would be concealed in “hardware material” and that it would come from Malaysia.
PDEA then calls for a meeting with the BOC and Philippine National Police.
Around 5 pm: Two magnetic lifters containing 355 kilograms – initially estimated to be 500 kg – of shabu are intercepted at the Manila International Container Port Compound, complete with a blow-by-blow media coverage.
As intelligence had earlier revealed, the shipment came from Malaysia.
GMA, Cavite, forklift operator Ramilo recognizes the shabu-packed magnetic lifters flashed in the news as similar to those he brought to the warehouse.
Ramilo informs the warehouse owner, Vicenta Cantemprate, who then reaches out to their barangay captain, who then calls the police.
Police enter the warehouse to find already-empty magnetic lifters. They call for the PDEA.
The PDEA goes to GMA Cavite to process the lifters with a swab test and a K-9 sweep. The dogs sit down on two tries, PDEA says. This indicates the existence of illegal drugs.
PDEA also sees similarities between the magnetic lifters found in the warehouse and those found packed with shabu at the MICP.
The PDEA and the PNP hold a press conference on the magnetic lifters in Cavite inside the warehouse where the suspected shabu containers were found.
PDEA announces its estimate that the lifters used to contain one ton of shabu worth about P6.8 billion.
PDEA chief Director General Aaron Aquino suspects that the alleged illegal drugs have already penetrated Philippine streets. – Rappler.com
The timeline will be updated as more information comes in. Read other stories from Rappler’s coverage of the search for the missing P6.8-billion shabu: