By Betheena Kae Unite
A timely intelligence report could have prevented the release of four magnetic lifters suspected to contain P6.8-billion shabu that were discovered in Cavite, the Customs chief said Saturday.
Four empty magnetic lifters found to have traces of shabu were discovered in Cavite Wednesday, a day after the Bureau of Customs (BOC) intercepted some P4.3-billion shabu shipment concealed in two magnetic lifters at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) following a tip from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
But the bureau, according to Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, had no prior information about the magnetic lifters found in Cavite, which were released from the Bureau of Customs on July 14, 2018, after being cleared by customs cargo clearance process.
“We were together during the presentation of the abandoned magnetic lifters but there was no mention on the specific details of the drugs that is coming, but he mentioned that they have this project that started seven years ago,”Lapeña said when asked if PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino mentioned to him any prior details on the discovered empty magnetic lifters.
“I would like to state on record that paramount in increasing our effectiveness in carrying out our mandate of border protection in the suppression and prevention of smuggling of any commodity, is the timely receipt of intelligence information from the lead agencies, primarily tasked to eliminate illegal drugs in the country, and the close coordination with proper authorities between agencies,” Lapeñaadded.
Lapeña emphasized the importance of information sharing among agencies, saying “the key here is timely information sharing between agencies. Proper coordination and intelligence sharing is crucial.”
It was disclosed that the four empty magnetic lifters found in Cavite arrived at the MICP from Taiwan on July 11, 2018. It was tagged as red, meaning it has to undergo documents and x-ray inspection.
Backtracking of documents showed that the shipment was consigned to SMYD Trading located in Barangay 666, Manila, owned by a certain Marina Dela Cruz Signapan with customs broker Katrina Grace Cuasay.
It was declared as magnetic lifters and passed through x-ray inspection, was cleared with no discrepancy.
According to Customs spokesman Erastus Sandino Austria, “supposing that a discrepancy was found between the declaration and the x-ray image, the container shall be subjected to 100 percent physical examination, however, there was no discrepancy found.”
It was cleared and released at the MICP on July 14, 2018 at 9:44 a.m.
The bureau explained that according to standard customs procedure, without an information that would allow the commissioner to issue alert order over the shipment, the shipment will not be opened.
“Our mechanisms are in place, and consistent with my policy to verify all derogatory information received, I would have immediately alerted all those shipments, and if necessary, the entire port to prevent the release of illegal drugs,” Lapeña said.
“The shipment passed through the normal procedure. It was tagged red, had been x-rayed and examined, but, as what PDEA had said, the drugs inside it cannot be detected,” he added.
Sophisticated, well-funded syndicate
The bureau said the country is now up against “a very sophisticated, well-funded international syndicate that operates a large-scale drug smuggling business.”
“If there is indeed collusion and any form of participation, or neglect of duty in any form, whether minor or extensive, of any customs employee with the consignee of this drug shipment, or if in fact, they have conspired with these international drug syndicates, they shall all be brought to the surface, and they shall regretfully pay the price for their reprehensible actions. I will bring them to justice and have them suffer under the full weight of the law,” Lapeña said.
As of Saturday, MICP District Collector VenerBaquiran has been recommended for relief, while the accreditation of SMYD Trading has been revoked and appropriate charges will be filed against the importer and the customs broker, who facilitated the shipment.
It was recalled that last year, a P6.4-billion drug shipment was discovered by the BOC and PDEA. It was then tagged as the largest drug haul in the country’s history.
A year later, another drug shipment of its kind slipped out from the Customs bureau.
Lapeña, however, was quick to say that it cannot be compared as “those were two different circumstances.”
“The circumstances are different but the fact is there was an entry of big quantity of drugs. In the case of last year, there was information from the Chinese authorities. That time, nakalabas na (it was already released) and because of that information then sinundan, so nasundan. History will say, on the record naman lahat. In this case, we do not have the information,” Lapeña said.
While the magnetic lifters found in MICP and Cavite and the manner by which the drugs were concealed inside it appeared to be similar, the bureau refused to confirm whether the two shipments were connected.
Lapeña said they are still determining if there was a connection between the two shipments.
Vecaba Trading, the consignee of the drug shipment intercepted in MICP, was shipped from Malaysia but the country was only identified as transshipment point.
The drug shipment was later discovered to have come from Taiwan.
The shipment of four magnetic lifters, found to have traces of drugs and consigned to SMYD Trading, also came from Taiwan.