Rappler sourced photo
MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is in hot water after P6.4 billion ($125.4 million)* worth of shabu that was smuggled into the country got past what should have been tight screening by the bureau in May 2017.
The controversy has been the subject of marathon congressional hearings, which have so far highlighted the alleged involvement of several BOC officials in smuggling, based on statements by broker Mark Ruben Taguba.
While the billions-worth of shabu was eventually discovered in a warehouse and seized by authorities, the public has yet to know how the shipment containing a huge amount of illegal drugs was able to get past the Customs monitor.
Rappler tracks the shipment’s movement – from arriving in the Philippine port to when it was eventually seized in Valenzuela City – based on what has been said during the Senate and House hearings.
Guang Ping Voyage No. 1719S, the vessel carrying the container with shabu, arrives at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) in Tondo, Manila.
Teejay Marcellana, a licensed Customs broker, lodges the shipment – claimed to contain kitchenware – under Entry Number C-129547 in the BOC’s Electronic-To-Mobile (E2M) Import Assessment System.
The importer, EMT Trading, owned by a certain Eirene Tatad, pays the taxes and duties amounting to P40,038 ($785). Tatad, during the Senate hearing on July 31, claims she was not aware at that time that the shipment contained illegal drugs.
BOC, through its Online Releasing System (OLRS), later approves the release of the container to the green lane, also called the express lane. Shipments that pass through this lane are not put through the X-ray.
This move is against BOC rules, which prohibits first-time importers and shipments from China from going through the green lane.
The truck carrying the container filled with shabu leaves the MICP’s International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI). With plate number AAL 3123, the vehicle is registered under Golden Strike Logistics Incorporated.
Chinese businessman Richard Tan (Chen Ju Long) – as he would later claim during the congressional hearings – calls the Bureau of Customs around 11 pm about the illegal shipment after he receives information from the China Customs Ministry in Xiamen.
The details are allegedly from an intelligence report by Zhang Xiaohui, the director of China’s International Enforcement Cooperation Division of the Anti-Smuggling Bureau.
Dong, according to a Cebu Daily News report, is also being investigated by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency-Central Visayas as a "person of interest" over alleged involvement in the trafficking of illegal drugs.
Rappler sourced photo
A little over 3 hours after receiving the information and organizing a team, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) Director Neil Estrella meets with Tan and an interpreter inside a car in Valenzuela City.
At 2:30 am, the 3 individuals and the CIIS team go inside the Tan-owned Hong Fei Logistics Warehouse located in Paseo de Blas, Valenzuela City, where they discover 5 cylinders containing shabu.
The total seized illegal drugs early morning of May 26 amount to 604 kilos of shabu worth at least P6.4 billion.
But without the presence of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) representatives during the initial raid, which goes against protocols, the smuggled drugs can be considered inadmissible as evidence in court.
PDEA is only called in when Customs agents are about to conduct a "controlled delivery operation" in Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City. Fidel Anoche Dee, the consignee, receives the container.
Dee is asked to open one crate in the presence of barangay officials, PDEA, BOC, and the media (READ: Customs seizes P6.4-B worth of shabu in Valenzuela)
Conspiracy within BOC?
Senators see “connivance” between Customs officials and Chinese personalities regarding the smuggled shabu.
But amid the controversy, President Rodrigo Duterte remains confident in BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
"The Chief Executive reiterated his trust and confidence in Customs Commissioner Faeldon and asked him to focus on his job of serving the nation in his capacity as head of Customs," said Malacañang in a statement sent on August 2. (READ: #AnimatED: Bilyunang shabu ang nakapuslit, Presidente ay di galit?)
Duterte has even asked Congress to allocate an additional P4.2 billion ($82.3 million) on top of its P3.6-billion ($70.5 million) proposed budget for 2018 to help BOC boost its workforce. – Rappler.com
*$1 = P50
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.