Lawmakers hit military ‘takeover’ of BOC: ‘Martial law na ba?’

Mara Cepeda

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Lawmakers hit military ‘takeover’ of BOC: ‘Martial law na ba?’
'It's an extreme response, putting a purely civilian bureaucracy under military control. It's as if President Duterte has imposed nationwide martial law,' says Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition congressmen slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to let the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) take over the Bureau of Customs (BOC), likening the move to the imposition of martial law nationwide.  

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said on Monday, October 29, that Duterte is now using the drug problem as a “weapon of convenience” in favor of martial law. 

“It’s an extreme response, putting a purely civilian bureaucracy under military control. It’s as if President Duterte has imposed nationwide martial law. The drug problem has now become a weapon of convenience to sound off the use of martial law powers,” said Villarin in a statement.

On Sunday, October 28, Duterte said he will ask members of the AFP to lead the BOC, which has been embroiled in controversy in the past weeks after P11 billion worth of shabu slipped past authorities.

The President said a military takeover would help address corruption allegations against the BOC.

Duterte already announced that Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, a former police general, will be heading the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority instead. (READ: Duterte ‘recycled’ Lapeña to prevent shabu probe backlash – lawmakers)

Former military chief and current Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Rey Guerrero will take over the BOC after Lapeña.

“Nasa martial law na ba ang Pilipinas? Ang alam ko ang martial law sa Mindanao lang. Ano’ng legal basis nito?” asked Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate in a press conference.

(Is the Philippines under martial law? I know that martial law is in effect only in Mindanao. What’s the legal basis for this?)

He said the 1987 Constitution only allows the President, as commander in chief, to call out the military to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion.

“Ang pagpupuslit ng droga, incompetence, corruption ng mga tauhan ni Pangulong Duterte – is that lawless violence? Kung gano’n, napakadaling magtanga-tangahan. Sila mismo ang gagawa ng gulo tapos ite-takeover ng militar ang lahat. That’s the shortest way of declaring martial law,” said Zarate.

(Drugs slipping past the government, incompetence, corruption of President Duterte’s people – do these constitute lawless violence? If so, then it’s easy to pretend to be stupid. They will create disorder themselves and the military will take over everything. That’s the shortest way of declaring martial law.)

‘Unconstitutional’ takeover of ‘incompetent’ military

ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio said Duterte’s plan for the AFP to take over the BOC is both “unconstitutional and illegal.”

Tinio cited Section 3, Article II of the 1987 Constitution, which states, “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military.”

“Unconstitutional at ilegal ‘yung gano’ng utos ni Pangulong Duterte. Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. Ngayon, ‘yung BOC, malinaw na, of course, part ng civil bureaucracy ito. ‘Di puwedeng basta-basta i-take over ng militar dahil sa utos ng Presidente…. Wala ‘yan sa kapangyarihan ng Pangulo,” said Tinio. 

(This order of President Duterte is unconstitutional and illegal. Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. Now, it is clear that the BOC is part of civil bureaucracy. The military can’t just take over because the President told them to…. The President does not have that kind of power.)

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, however, disagrees. He said a military takeover of the BOC does not violate the civilian supremacy rule because its chief is a civilian.

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, meanwhile, said the controversies surrounding the BOC only prove that the military men that Duterte has been appointing to government posts are “incompetent.”

“No’ng panahon ni [former BOC chief Nicanor] Faeldon, ‘di ba nakapuslit ang 6 something billion [pesos] na shabu shipment? Ano ang ginawa niya? Nilagay niya lang sa ibang ahensiya…. Kay Lapeña, P11 billion ang naipuslit na shabu. Ano ba ang ginawa ni President Duterte? Prinomote niya pa ‘yan,” said Castro.  

(During the time of former BOC chief Nicanor Faeldon, P6 billion worth of shabu slipped past the government, right? But he was placed in another agency instead…. With Lapeña, P11 billion worth of shabu got past the government. What did President Duterte do? He promoted Lapeña.)

Like with Lapeña, Duterte reassigned Faeldon to another government post after P6.4 billion worth of shabu slipped past the government during the latter’s stint with the BOC last year.

Faeldon himself resigned as BOC chief following the congressional hearings on the illegal shabu shipment. Senator Panfilo Lacson had accused him of accepting grease money from smugglers, which Faeldon denied.

Faeldon was later appointed as deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense. Duterte now wants Faeldon to head the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) because BuCor chief Ronald dela Rosa is running for senator in 2019. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.