PDEA: ₱6B illegal drugs inadmissible as evidence because of 'contamination'

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 9) — The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said the Bureau of Customs failed to observe protocol and contaminated evidence in handling more than ₱6 billion worth of illegal drugs smuggled into the country from China.

"I think that (the) evidence will no longer be able support a case," said PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña in the senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on August 9. "It will be inadmissible."

This was Lapeña's reply when asked by Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the blue ribbon committee, about the failure of the Bureau of Customs to immediately inform PDEA of the suspected drug shipment.

 

On May 26, authorities seized 604 kilos of shabu worth ₱6.4 billion from two different warehouses in Paso de Blas and Barangay Ugong in Valenzuela City.

The operation followed a call on May 25 to the Bureau of Customs from the owner of one of the warehouses, Richard Tan.

Tan was grilled by the senate committee on Wednesday and was eventually found in contempt for failing to answer the committee's questions properly.

Tan, who said he did not speak English or Tagalog, replied in Mandarin through an interpreter, saying that he received a call from a certain Wang Xi Dong of Chinese customs in Xiamen, informing him that there were illegal drugs contained in the shipment delivered to his warehouse on May 24.

But Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service Director Neil Estrella said the bureau's raiding team conducted the search without coordinating with PDEA.

 

"At that time, my appreciation of the intelligence information requires an urgency to immediately validate the information," said Estrella. "I (did) not yet have the confirmation of whether there is really drugs in that warehouse."

Senate committee chair Gordon pointed out that under a September 2010 memorandum of agreement between customs and PDEA, the two agencies must work together when intercepting large drug shipments.

Estrella said he instead called his friend and former classmate, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) special action unit chief Lito Magno, for advice before initiating the raid.

"I have trust (in) him, so I told him that, "Pare, meron tayong impormasyon. Ano bang procedure ninyo sa ganito pagka-drugs, possibly nasa hawak ng isang tao?"

[Translation: I have trust in him, so I told him that, "My friend, we have information. What is your procedure in cases when someone is possibly in possession of drugs?]

Gordon then asked Lapeña if it was right that the raid was conducted without PDEA present from the beginning of the operation, to which the drug enforcement chief replied: "No, your honor."

The senator followed up with "And the only object of that is to contaminate the evidence, is that correct?"

"That was what happened, your honor," Lapeña concurred.

PH 'laughing stock' over housing raid

Gordon berated Estrella of customs for his "incompetence."

"You'd prefer to call your classmate rather than call PDEA, which is the law," an exasperated Gordon said. "At alam mo, dapat kasama PDEA. Ang NBI, dapat susuporta lang pag nandu'n na kayo."

[Translation: And you know that PDEA needs to be with you. The NBI is only a support agency when you and PDEA are already there.]

"All Customs officials violated entrapment protocols for illegal drugs in the warehouse raid," Gordon said. "We are now a laughing stock over the Customs warehouse raid."

Lapeña said he only received a call from the Bureau of Customs at 9 a.m. of May 26, and then instructed PDEA-National Capital Region Regional Director Wilkins Villanueva to proceed to the warehouse in Valenzuela.

Villanueva said Customs officers, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and the NBI had already opened one cylinder when PDEA arrived at 1:30 p.m., with the drugs scattered on the floor.

"The first (thing) that I felt is that I'm not happy because I was already there and I don't have the personal knowledge of what happened," he said. "We were called so late that we don't know anything about those drugs on the floor. And those people around already taking pictures, walking around, touching (the evidence)."

 

The senate hearing revealed that the illegal drugs were found inside five huge insulator machines or cylinders that were made of solid steel and one foot in diameter used in printing businesses.

Estrella said they started the search at 2 a.m. on May 26, and managed to break into one of the cylinders by 4 a.m.

Estrella then said he called his office to request a letter of authority from Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, adding that they only informed PDEA later that day.

The Senate probe comes amid calls for Faeldon to resign over the drugs shipment, which was found to have slipped through customs inspections at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) on May 23 despite orders to hold the shipment.

Read: Lawmakers call for resignation of Customs chief

MICP Customs District Collector Vincent Maronilla told CNN Philippines News Night on August 4 that proper procedures were followed for the container with the drugs.

Read: Manila port collector on drug shipment: We followed procedure

"Under the green lane means no additional documentary and physical examination should be done — unless we receive derogatory information," he said.

He added that information from Chinese authorities on the shipment "came belatedly" on May 25.

Estrella said he conducted the search because was not aware of the report from China.

CNN Senior Desk Editor Lara Parpan contributed to this story.

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