Senators blast lack of urgency, focus in shabu shipment investigation

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — Senators on Monday called out what they said was a lack of focus and urgency from law enforcement agencies and the executive branch in the investigation on the multi-billion drug shipment from China.

Senator Richard Gordon asked National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Investigative Services Deputy Director Vicente de Guzman for a progress report on the P6.4-billion shabu shipment. The seizure of the 604 kilograms of shabu from a warehouse in Valenzuela City on May 25 uncovered an entrenched and widespread system of corruption within the Bureau of Customs headlined by huge payoffs to various officials known as "tara."

"The other thing that bothers us here is, nangyari ito May 25 or 26. Tapos walang nangyari for two months until nabulgar ito sa Senado. Bakit walang nangyari nu'ng mga panahon na iyon," said Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

[Translation: The other thing that bothers us here, is this happened in May 25 or 26. Then nothing happened for two months until this was exposed here in the Senate. Why did nothing happen in that time?]

Gordon noted that law enforcement agencies were slow to act until the issue was revealed in the Senate's investigation which began on July 31, 2017. Monday's hearing is the committee's seventh session on the illegal drugs shipment.

"For the record…we are getting tired of the lack of urgency by the Executive and government agencies involved," he said. The NBI's De Guzman failed to give a reply to Gordon's request.

Gordon added the lack of action was "nonfeasance." 

Senator Franklin Drilon took up Gordon's case saying, "So from May, June, July, August, September – almost four months. And up to now, except for the information that a case has been filed, that a subpoena has been issued – up to this point, we have not heard any substantial progress."

The NBI said it had filed a case on August 14 against nine people allegedly involved in the smuggling of shabu from China. Among the nine named in the complaint were Filipino-Chinese businessman Chen Lu Jong (alias Richard Chen) and private customs fixer mark Ruben Taguba II, who have been central to the senate investigation. They are facing charges for violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

READ: NBI files drug raps vs. 9 for alleged involvement in P6.4-B shabu shipment

Chen is the owner of Hong Fei Logistics, whose warehouse in Valenzuela City was the site where five wooden crates containing huge cylinders meant for printing machines were sent. Upon inspection by the Bureau of Customs and the NBI, the cylinders contained 604 kgs of shabu in plastic bags.

Drilon. another member of the Blue Ribbon committee, lamented the lack of timely information on drug shipment apprehensions.

"We are left in the dark. We are left uninformed. The public is left uninformed," he said.

He noted that government's crackdown on shabu-manufacturing laboratories in the country has curtailed supply, thus leading to imports.

"Since the intensified campaign against shabu laboratories locally, demand has been supplied by importation and using the Customs. Because wala na po 'yang laboratories, nawala lahat," Drilon said.

"So ngayon, the demand of however hundreds of thousands or millions of drug dependents are being addressed by importations from China in this particular case," he added.

In December 2016, the NBI seized an even bigger haul of shabu amounting to 809 kgs, then valued also at P6 billion, from an apartment in San Juan City.

READ: Residents shocked after P6-billion drug bust in peaceful neighborhood

The December 2016 haul, plus the 604-kg shabu from May 2017 meant over 1,000 kgs of shabu were in the country, Drilon said.

"It is really clear that there is no urgency, there lack of focus, attention on these cases, notwithstanding the fact that in the campaign against illegal drugs, thousands have died. These are two critical cases," Drilon said.

Expand pre-shipment inspection system

Criminal prosecution, effective law enforcement, and turning into law the coverage of a pre-shipment inspection system, are some solutions to curbing the entry of illegal drugs and other contraband, Drilon said.

An earlier pre-shipment inspection system had been previously terminated, he said, because the company hired to do this could not be paid what they were due.

Edward James Dy Buco, Customs Deputy Commissioner, said there was a pre-shipment inspection system in place, but only for bulk and break-bulk cargo. These made up 60 percent of all cargo entering the country, he added.

Break-bulk cargo refers to cargo that is transported in bags, boxes, crates, drums, or barrels. Bulk cargo refers to cargo transported in large quantities, often liquid, granular, or particulate.

Dy Buco, a long-time employee at Customs, said pre-shipment inspection was covered by Administrative Order (AO) No. 243 and amended by AO No. 243-A, the order Creating a System for the Bulk and Break Bulk Cargo Clearance Enhancement Program of the Bureau of Customs. This was introduced during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"The system is very effective especially if extended to containerized cargo," he said, suggesting that the administrative order be expanded to cover this kind of cargo.

Drilon said he would recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte to expand this order. However, he said a law was needed to require pre-inspection of all cargo since an administrative order can be changed or rendered ineffective by a particular administration.