MANILA, Philippines – Outgoing Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon – now embroiled in alleged corruption in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) – is no stranger to controversy.
Before becoming the 38th commissioner of the BOC, Faeldon was a rebel soldier and fugitive, who first gained national attention as one of the soldiers of the Magdalo group who led the botched Oakwood mutiny against the Arroyo administration in 2003.
Born to educator parents in Batanes province, the former Marine captain had long wanted to be a soldier when he was young. Faeldon initially took up a political science course at National University, graduating in 1989, but he pursued military courses after college to pursue his intent to become a soldier. Faeldon was called to active duty by the Philippine Marines in 1992.
Faeldon is also behind the group Kalayaan Atin Ito, which aims to promote awareness of the country's rights over the West Philippine Sea.
In 2003, Faeldon and a group of junior officers – including now Senator Antonio Trillanes IV – staged a mutiny and took over the Oakwood serviced apartments in Makati City.
The Magdalo group, as they called themselves, protested corruption in the military, including alleged anomalies in the military procurement system and the retirement and benefits system, among others.
The soldiers ended their mutiny several hours later after negotiations with government, and were later charged with staging a coup d'etat.
Faeldon was jailed for two years and escaped as he was being brought to a court hearing in Makati City in December 2005.
While a fugitive, he called for a civil disobedience campaign against the Arroyo administration, and stirred controversy with photos and videos posted on his website, Pilipino.org.ph, showing him inside military bases even as he was on the run.
File photo by Joel Nito/AFP
Faeldon was recaptured a month later, along with a military lawyer assigned to prosecute his case.
A year after his recapture, Faeldon made his second escape in the aftermath of the Manila Peninsula siege.
On November 29, 2007, Faeldon, Trillanes, and a group of soldiers walked out of their hearing for their Oakwood mutiny case and holed up at the Makati city hotel.
Military tanks and soldiers entered the hotel and arrested the mutineers. While Trillanes was recaptured, Faeldon again eluded authorities. The Philippine National Police offered a P1-million bounty for Faeldon's arrest. The fugitive soldier finally surrendered to authorities in 2010.
Work in Customs
In May 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Faeldon as the 38th commissioner of the BOC, the agency infamous for its image as one of the most corrupt in government.
When he assumed office, Faeldon vowed to institute reform in the agency, following the President's marching orders. But earlier this month, Faeldon and the BOC were thrust into the spotlight after the discovery of P6.4-billion worth of smuggled shabu from China. (TIMELINE: How P6.4-B worth of shabu was smuggled into PH from China)
During a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing, Faeldon said he failed to address corruption in the bureau because he was working alone.
He said he knew of the BOC's "tara" system, where importers give grease money to Customs personnel for the release of misdeclared cargos. But Faeldon said that it was "impossible" for him to abolish the system on his own.
“I was the only appointee until late last year. And the people I have worked with, there are the people that I suspect doing this ‘tara’ so how would I designate them to be the one conducting the investigation?” he told the Senate.
Earlier this week, Duterte announced that he accepted Faeldon's resignation from the BOC, but added that he continues to believe in Faeldon.
"He is an honest man, some people just got past him," said the President.
Duterte also revealed that Faeldon had asked thrice to be fired because of his failure to stamp out corruption in the BOC.
On Wednesday, Senator Panfilo Lacson accused Faeldon and other former military officers at the BOC of accepting bribes, including a P100-million "welcome gift" when he assumed office.