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Customs makes way for PDEA on drug bust

ALL illegal drugs seized by the Bureau of Customs must be handled by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and not by any Customs personnel to avoid glitches in anti-drug operations, Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña said Wednesday.

Lapena issued a memorandum order that aims to establish proper protocols for the handling of dangerous drugs and controlled precursors and essential chemicals within the jurisdiction of the bureau.

“To avoid glitch[es] in drug operations, make way and let PDEA stand in front because when it comes to drugs, they know better,” Lapeña said in a statement.

The Customs chief said that the apprehending officer must adhere to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“Ignorance of the law excuses no one. Let us follow the law and the proper protocol. However, let me also urge our BoC operatives to be always on tight guard so that we can suppress all drug importations right at the port of entry,” Lapeña added.

He said it is the role of PDEA to handle and investigate all seized illegal drugs.

Former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon and other bureau employees faced congressional investigations for allegedly mishandling of the 605-kilo shipment of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) from China.

On Wednesday, the resigned chief of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service Neil Anthony Estrella said the PDEA failed to substantiate its charges against him and other former bureau officials of conspiracy in the importation of P6.4 billion worth of shabu.

In a pleading filed with the Justice department, Estrella accused PDEA officials of arrogating the role of DoJ prosecutors tasked to determine probable cause.

Estrella made the statement as the DoJ concluded its preliminary investigation on the criminal complaints lodged against him, former Customs chief Faeldon and 36 others in connection with the smuggled shabu.

The investigating panel headed by Assistant State Prosecutor Aristotle Reyes terminated the proceedings and submitted for resolution the string of illegal drug complaints filed by the PDEA.

Faeldon and his fiancée, lawyer Jelina Maree Magsuci, filed a joint memorandum urging the panel to dismiss the complaints filed against them for lack of probable cause.

The couple warned the investigating panel to be “extremely cautious” of PDEA Seaport Interdiction Unit chief Norman Balquiedra’s statement, whom Faeldon earlier accused of being a “hit-and-run complainant.”

 “Complainant Balquiedra’s admission in his reply-affidavit that all of the allegations in his complaint-affidavit are hearsay, is the final nail in the coffin of the above-captioned complaint,” the two said.

Estrella, in a chance interview, said he was confident that the panel would vindicate him and the other Bureau of Customs officials.

 “We are innocent. They can’t even articulate their points in their complaint. We feel vindicated at this point,” Estrella said.

Estrella said that contrary to its claim, the PDEA failed to present facts to establish probable cause or the probable guilt of the CIIS personnel that the agency accused of graft and collusion in the drugs shipment.

Estrella also warned that the faulty complaint filed by PDEA—“riddled as it was with half-truths and outright lies”—may lead to the exoneration of those responsible for the drugs shipment, including customs broker Mark Taguba and the shipment’s consignees.

He said that PDEA failed to show that the CIIS personnel charged had been involved in the drugs shipment passing through the BoC, except for the complainant’s claim that the respondent BoC officials were involved in a criminal conspiracy as claimed by PDEA agent Norman Balquedra in his reply to the BoC officials’ counter-affidavits last Nov. 3.

 “The CIIS does not have a hand in the approval or processing of shipments through the BoC, let alone, in designating that a shipment passes through the green lane where there is no inspection. Our mandate is to investigate and seize contraband outside the Customs territory. So why are we, who with the NBI and PDEA are responsible for successfully conducting one of the largest drug busts in history, now included in this criminal case?” Estrella said.

Estrella said Balquedra’s reply failed to rebut the facts presented in the CIIS officials’ counter affidavits disproving the numerous falsehoods in the PDEA’s complaint. This includes PDEA’s charge that the CIIS usurped PDEA’s authority over drug investigations, belied by the certificate of coordination issued by PDEA on May 26, or the day of the seizure, to the BOC affirming that the drug bust had been conducted under the PDEA’s ambit.

Estrella welcomed the plan of the Office of the Ombudsman to probe the drugs shipment case, as he expressed confidence that a full and impartial investigation would lead to the CIIS officials’ exoneration.

Topics: PDEA , BoC
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