Duterte names new PDEA, BOC chiefs

Updates with statements from Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, Liberal Party

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte said drug enforcement agency chief Isidro Lapeña will be the new commissioner of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Retired military general Lapeña heads the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), one of the government's lead agencies in its war on drugs.

The announcement of Lapeña as the new BOC head came after the President said he was appointing Philippine National Police Region 3 head Chief Superintendent Aaron Aquino as head of PDEA.

When asked what would happen to Lapeña, Duterte replied: "He's going to be the Commissioner of Customs."

Duterte made the remarks in an interview late Monday with Malacañang reporters.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Tuesday said Lapeña's mandate as new Customs chief is to keep the agency "trustworthy, clean, and corruption free."

Lapeña replaces BOC chief Nicanor Faeldon. Faeldon and the BOC have come under fire in recent weeks over the unimpeded entry of a P6.4 billion shipment of 604 kilograms of metamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) in May 2017.

When asked if he had accepted Faeldon's resignation, President Duterte said this was unnecessary.

"If I appoint Lapeña, automatic na iyan. No need. If somebody is appointed in the position, automatic na iyan. Umalis ka (...it's automatic. You should leave.)," Duterte said.

READ: Duterte: Faeldon wrote to me thrice to relieve him from Customs post

However, the President said he still had confidence in Faeldon, whom he described as an "honest" man, amid the shabu controversy hounding the Customs bureau.

Faeldon said being relieved from his post was for the country's welfare. He also asked the public to keep supporting the President and his programs.

"My relief from my post is the best for our country. I urge everyone to continue to support the reform agendas and the development programs of the President," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Abella said Faeldon may still be tapped by Duterte for another post.

"Mr. Faledon still maintains the President's trust and I am sure the President will find situations for him to be of use," he said during a regular Palace briefing.

Challenging job for Lapeña

The Liberal Party senators welcomed the removal of Faeldon, but called to the incoming Customs chief to find out who was responsible for  the entry of illegal drugs into the country.

"Kung seryoso talaga ang labang ito sa talamak na droga, hanapin natin ang ulo ng pagpapalusot sa Bureau of Customs ng 6.4 million pisong halaga na shabu galing China. Umaasa ako na isa ito sa mga babantayan ng bagong Customs commissioner," Liberal Party president Senator Kiko Pangilinan said in a statement.

Senator Bam Aquino also said Lapeña should prevent the entry of smuggled goods.

Former Customs Commissioner and now Muntinlupa Representative Ruffy Biazon said Lapeña will have to contend with entrenched and corrupt interests in the customs bureau.

"With powerful, influential, and moneyed forces and interests resisting any change and reform, the former police official and PDEA head will need to be able to adapt to the unique environment of Customs administration in the Philippines," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said a Customs Commissioner who will initiate reforms can expect resistance from groups with vested interest or those who benefit from the so-called "kalakaran" or informal protocol.

Biazon gave Lapeña "unsolicited advice." "It's been proven that mere tough-talk, and head-chopping is not enough to institute reforms, but more importantly, a well-studied, intelligent and systems change approach is needed. It's not just changing personnel, it's more about changing systems."

Meanwhile, Chief Superintendent Aaron Aquino said he welcomed the trust given to him by the President.

Aquino added that he will accept the position as head of the PDEA after his retirement from the police service on September 6.