By Ben Rosario
Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena finally acknowledged on Wednesday that there was indeed reason to support claims that P6.4 billion worth of shabu had been slipped into the country, apparently part of a large-scale narcotics smuggling uncovered last August.
“With what’s going on now, (based on) the circumstantial evidence and testimonies, as an investigator I tend to bleieve that indeed may laman iyan (referring to the magnetic lifters) that is designed to contain certain cargoes,” Lapena said during yesterday’s resumption of the joint congressional probe into the P6.4 billion drug smuggling incident.
Earlier during the hearing conducted jointly by the House Committees on Good Government and on Dangerous Drugs, Lapena claimed receiving reports that a P20 million fund was raised by drug lords to discredit him.
Testifying before the House panels, Customs inspector Jimmy Guban confessed that out of the six magnetic lifters that were sneaked into the country, four which contained illegal drugs were cleared by them while the two were seized.
The two cargoes containing 500 kilograms of metamphetamine hydrochloride with an estimated cost of P4.3 billion were seized by operatives of the Philipine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and BOC at the Manila Inernational Container Terminal (MICT) on August 7.
On August 8, four similar magnetic lifters were discovered at a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. All reportedly contained traces of shabu.
The new development in the congressional inquiry was triggered by the intense grilling of witnesses by Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, the former chief of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
When asked by Acop to comment on the testimonies of witnesses, Lapena said: “With these devleopments, I would tend to belief that indeed there was content that had been peddled by these drug syndicate.”
Guban, who had been ordered detained by senators for allegedly lying during a Senate probe of the same incident, confessed to Acop that what happened to the shabu shipment was a usual occurrence whenever they discovered contraband being spirited into the country.
Earlier, Deputy Collector Lourdes Mangaoang, the former head of the BOC X-Ray Inspection Project, endured warnings of contempt by congressmen who grilled her over her claim of a coverup in the alleged smuggling of an estimated P6.8 billion into the country.
The hearing conducted jointly by the Committee on Dangerous Drugs chaired by Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers and Committee on Government headed by Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo lasted for over six hours but was marred by contradicting statements of the witnesses.
Mangaoang backed her claim that the magnetic lifters recovered in a warehouse in Cavite had contained shabu based not only on the x-ray images but also by the results of the investigation conducted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration.
Claiming an impeccable track record in Customs x-ray processes, Mangaoang said based on her experience and training, it was clear that a huge shipment of shabu had indeed been smuggled into the country, and this can be supported by reports that the “market is flooded” with the illegal substance.
However, she admitted that x-ray examination alone cannot determine whether there was indeed illegal drugs inside the magnetic lifters.
Mangaoang faced a hostile panel of congressmen who implied that she may have testified against Lapena in retaliation to his order assigning her to the Compliance Monitoring Unit, considered an insignificant post.
At one point, Mangaoang protested the grilling she had to endure and the accusation that she had an axe to grind agianst Lapena.
“You invited me here as a witness bakit ang dami ninyong sinasabi na ill-will. Kung hindi ninyo ako kailangan, I will leave (You invited me here as a witness but you are accusing me of harboring ill-will. I will leave if you don’t need my testimony),” she warned.
At this juncture, Acop warned the BOC official that she may be held in contempt for disrespectful conduct, prompting Mangaoang to apologize.
Acop noted that Mangaoang adverse testimony against the BOC and Lapenal was the result of an “Improper motive” because she was sacked from her previous positions.
Mangaoang responded by insisting that she never complained being sent to a far-away assignment like Bicol but challenged Lapena’s order to assign her to CMU, which is a reportedly violation of civil service rules.
During the hearing, Lapena revealed that he had become the object of a P20 million mudslinging campaign.
“I was informed that the players have put up a sinking fund of P20
million that will be used against me because my reformative efforts
are already hurting their operation,” said Lapeña
Reacting to Mangaoang’s testimony, X-ray inspectors John Mar Morales and Manuel Martinez said they examined the four magnetic lifters alleged to have contained shabu and found nothing wrong with them.
Morales, who was trained by Mangaoang, said he found nothing unusual inside the magnetic lifters when he examined during x-ray examination.
“Makikita natin na may equivalent density siya na parang hindi tumutugon na may laman iyong loob,” he said. (We saw that there has been no equivalent density that will show there was something inside)