By Genalyn Kabiling
A “state of lawlessness” pervaded in the corruption-ridden Customs bureau (BOC), prompting President Duterte to call the military to suppress such threat.
Malacañang gave this explanation to defend the constitutionality of the military takeover at the BoC following the reported smuggling of a huge shabu shipment that slipped through customs recently.
“Let us not also forget that earlier on, the President has declared a state of lawlessness and the provision of the Constitution says when there is lawless violence, then the President can call out the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
“Now the lawless violence certainly would refer to what is happening in BOC. There is state of lawlessness there,” he said.
“If you can bring in hundreds of kilos of drugs, then there must something grave wrong in that area and there is state of lawlessness there. It violates the law, it violates the Constitution. Now it endangers the security of our countrymen. Certainly, the President will have to do something about it,” Panelo said.
Asked if the alleged corruption in BoC was covered by lawlessness, Panelo said: “Definitely because when you say lawless violence, it’s not just physical violence. You do violence to the Constitution, you do violence to the law. It’s a state of lawlessness.”
“The state of lawlessness would include state of lawless violence,” he added.
Under Section 18 Article VII of the Constitution, the President, as commander-in-chief, may call out the Armed Forces whenever it becomes necessary to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.
Panelo maintained that the government has the constitutional duty to serve and protect the people, that includes keeping peace and order for public welfare.
“This principle is, in fact, what motivated the President to order the AFP to assume law enforcement activities in the BOC and terminate the nefarious practices being carried out thereat,” he said.
Panelo maintained that the President’s directive for the military to temporarily oversee customs operation is not only based on law but is grounded on the Constitution. He assured the public that the President would not overstep the bounds of law in keeping peace and order.
“Time and again, the President assures everyone that as a lawyer, he knows the limits of the power and authority of his office,” he said.
“Hence, our people can be assured that the directives by the President are well-studied, supported by the rule of law and, most importantly, intended solely for the benefit of our country,” he added.
Invasion of drugs
Senator Richard Gordon is supporting the President’s move but urged the Palace to clarify the role of the Armed Forces in the agency.
“The President is so serious that he issued an order like this. Maramingkumukutya, pero ang aking palagay — although pwedeng gawin ‘yan, pwedengg awinng military –dapat ilinaw muna ng Malacanang kung anong gagawin ng military (Many have criticized the move, but I think — although it can be done, that the military can take over –Malacañang should first clarify what the military would do),” Gordon said at the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on the missing estimated P11-billion shabu shipment that slipped through the BOC.
“Sa tingin ko dapat may preno kung anong gagawin ng military. Dapat paliwanag muna kung anong ilalagay sa proclamation, kung anong gagawin ng military doon (I think they should define the role of the military. The Palace should first explain what it would put in the proclamation, about what the military would do there),” he added.
Gordon noted the President cannot order the replacement of employees in the BOC as it would violate civil service rules.
“Merongdapat qualifications ang ilagagay sa Customs na dapat susundin ang batas (Those who would be appointed in Customs should be qualified and would follow the law). And I think the President knows that as a lawyer,” said the senator.
He noted that while soldiers “have discipline and control” to be able to effectively guard gates and shipments, the AFP, he said, is not trained for procedures at the BOC, especially in assessing declared imported goods, monitoring of x-ray machines, and collection of duties.
Gordon, likewise defended Duterte in ordering the military takeover of the BOC, saying the Constitution allows the President to intervene during a state of lawless violence.
For him, the problem of illegal drugs could be considered a “lawless violence.”
“We are under invasion of drugs, not on the ground, but right in our doorstep, in our ports. To me, I could be wrong, I consider that (illegal drugs) lawless violence. Drugs bring violence. That also constitutes a real threat. Illegal drugs are being used to create disorder, the country would be in chaos if it will not be suppressed,” he said.
“Hindi ito Martial Law — I’m not trying to defend the President –walang sinuspinding habeas corpus,” he added.
Gordon said he understood that Duterte ran out of patience over the problems of corruption in the BOC, leading to such “drastic measures.”The Philippine Coast Guard is now looking for men who would help fulfill the President’s mission after all personnel from BO were placed on floating status.(With reports from Vanne Elaine P. Terrazola and Betheena Unite)