Seized shabu 'overstaying' with NBI, PDEA

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FILE PHOTO. Almost 900 kilos of shabu were seized in San Juan City last December 2016.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 7) — Senators on Thursday warned customs and drug enforcement officials of possible violations of the law for keeping over 1,000 kilos of shabu in their possession.

Section 21 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act states, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) "shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs" within 24 hours after these were confiscated.

The law further states PDEA should destroy the illegal drugs within four days after the criminal case is filed. NBI Investigative Services Deputy Director Vicente de Guzman III reiterated to the hearing that a criminal case of drug possession was filed on August 14. 

Read more: NBI files drug raps vs. 9 over shabu mess

Senator Franklin Drilon said this provision is crucial to prevent the drugs from being "recycled" and peddled on the streets. Drilon is a member of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee which is investigating the smuggling of P6.4 billion pesos worth of shabu that slipped through customs in May 2017.

But almost four months after the 604-kilogram (kg) shabu shipment was seized from two warehouses in Valenzuela City, 502 kgs remain in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), while 100 kgs are with the PDEA, Thursday's Senate hearing revealed. It was not immediately known where the remaining two kgs are.

Drilon quizzed government officials on the status of the massive haul that passed through the Bureau of Customs (BOC) last May.

Lawmakers were even more shocked to know that a bigger haul – 890 kilos of shabu seized in San Juan City last December 2016 – remain undestroyed.

Read more: Residents shocked after ₱6-billion drug bust in a peaceful neighborhood

The NBI said they have turned over 400 kilos to PDEA, but former PDEA chief and now BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña said they have received only 300 kilos. Lapeña replaced resigned commisioner Nicanor Faeldon, who was cited in contempt by the Senate for skipping Thursday's hearing.

Lapeña earlier said the PDEA has received and destroyed all 890 kilos of shabu from San Juan, but later corrected himself.

Drilon warned PDEA and NBI officials they could face life imprisonment, perpetual disqualification from public office, and a fine of up to P10 million for mishandling confiscated drugs considered as evidence.

"We must warn PDEA, the NBI that any public official may be punished by life imprisonment by misapplying or failing to account for the confiscated, seized, or surrendered dangerous drugs," he said.

 

NBI's De Guzman III said the law allows exemptions in case of a "justifiable reason," which he did not elaborate.

He assured senators, "We have a solid legal ground to back up our possession of this matter."

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee asked the NBI and PDEA to submit a detailed report on the confiscated shabu when the hearing resumes on Monday.

"We have this problem because they are taking for granted compliance with this very clear and strict provisions of the law. Very dangerous," Drilon said.

Senator Ping Lacson agreed, adding that based on Supreme Court records, a lot of court cases have been dismissed because the evidence were mishandled.

In some cases, the drugs were infested by rats, the senators said.

Senator Tito Sotto pointed out one ton of white powder from the May 2017 raid is still unaccounted for.

"Nililigaw ng nililigaw ng mga pangyayari e, nasan yung isang tonelada ng powder? Mas malaki yun kaysa sa 604 kilos ng shabu," Sotto said.

(Translation: We are being misled all the more. Where is the one ton of powder? That's even a bigger issue than the 604 kilos of shabu.)

Senators have accused Customs fixer Mark Taguba of misleading the probe by alleging a "tara" or payoff system at the BOC, naming various officials and aliases who supposedly took bribe money.

Gordon called the May 2017 drug raid a "botched operation" for lapses that have led to the missing contraband.