Grant Duterte emergency powers to abolish, revamp corrupt customs bureau: House panel

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 3) — President Rodrigo Duterte must take over the beleaguered Bureau of Customs (BOC) immediately and abolish the agency.

These are two of the key recommendations of the House Committee on Ways and Means which investigated the entry of P6.4-billion worth of shabu from China and was seized by the BOC last May. It emerged later on that the shabu's entry was facilitated by corrupt customs officials and fixers.

In its 82-page report released on Monday, the House committee said the "entry of large scale contraband especially illegal drugs" into the country due to deep-seated corruption and officials' incompetence may be considered a national emergency.

"The occurrence of the national emergency may be considered when the Philippine first line of defense has been compromised because of the Bureau's corruption and incompetence in protecting and securing our border from entry of large scale contraband especially illegal drugs," the report said.

"Thus, this Committee recommends that Congress grant the President emergency powers to immediately take over the operations of the Bureau in order to ensure public safety and security," the House Committee on Ways and Means said, on top of other key recommendations.

The provision granting emergency powers to the President can be found in Section 23, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the report said, stating: "In times of war or other national emergency, the Congress may, by law, authorize the President, for a limited period and subject to such restrictions as it may prescribe, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy."

Congress shall carefully study the extent of powers to be given to the President, the committee said, adding the powers would be exercised over a two-year transition period while the BOC is reconstituted into two separate agencies. The formation of two agencies was also among the key recommendations of the report.

These would be the Bureau of Customs Service to assess and collect duties and taxes from shipments under the guidance of the Department of Finance.

The other agency would be the Bureau of Security Control to protect and secure Philippine borders, and will fall under the Department of Interior and Local Government.

The failure of government to act on recommendations to revamp the bureau will negatively impact the administration's war against drugs, crime, and corruption, it said.

"The current issue in the Bureau is part of the overall campaign on reducing criminality in the country. The inability of government to curb corruption will in turn facilitate the entry of illegal drugs into the country will surely result in increased criminality in the country," the House Ways and Means Committee report said.


Dismiss, probe BOC officials

The ways and means committee also said that Customs officials behind the shabu shipment must be immediately dismissed from public office for "serious errors, gross inexcusable negligence, and willful dereliction of duty," on top of graft and corruption and must be prosecuted.

This includes former Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon who already resigned from his post and was replaced by Isidro Lapeña, former head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

Faeldon was slammed for centralizing the power to issue alert orders on shipments through the creation of a Command Center.

"By doing so, Players in the industry need not transact with many Bureau Offices. Instead, they only needed to transact and pay "tara" to the ComCen," the ways and means committee said.

Related: BOC chief abolishes Command Center

Faeldon must also be probed for graft and corruption, for doing business with fixers, and for causing delay in the prosecution of drug cases.

Senator Panfilo Lacson has said Faeldon received an initial payoff of P100 million when he assumed as head of the BOC in 2016.

Faeldon is detained at the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms for refusing to attend Senate hearings into the shabu shipment.

The committee also recommends authorities to investigate Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director Neil Estrella, who led the Customs team that raided the Valenzuela City warehouses where the drugs were discovered. Estrella and his entire raiding team must be probed for lapses in the raid, including the failure to coordinate with PDEA, the lead agency on the fight against drugs.

Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala, meanwhile, failed to issue alert orders for the drug shipments which Estrella said were declared as kitchenware by its importer, EMT Trading, the committee said.

"The reason why the P6.4 billion worth of Shabu was able to pass through the Bureau's Green Lane is attributable to the incompetence and corruption of not one but many Bureau personnel," the committee said. It recommended the immediate dismissal and investigation of 13 BOC personnel and consultants.

LOOK: How ₱6.4B-worth of shabu was shipped from China to PH

Earlier, the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs also highlighted the need to pass a legislation to replace the BOC by a new revenue collection agency. It released its own report in August 2016 after conducting several legislative hearings.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is still conducting its own investigation into the 604-kilogram shabu shipment that was seized from two different warehouses in Paso de Blas and Barangay Ugong in Valenzuela City on May 26. It has yet to release its findings.

Fixer Mark Taguba named Customs officials and individuals with aliases he has allegedly been paying off to ease the release of his shipments. He said he pays up to P27, 000 per container as "tara" or grease money for Customs officials. He, however, denied the shabu came from his containers.

Read: Fixer's texts link customs commissioner's office to payoff system

Taguba is facing drug charges filed by the National Bureau of Investigation. Eight other personalities have also been charged for their alleged involvement in the smuggling of P6.4-B shabu. They include Filipino-Chinese businessman Chen Lu Jong (alias Richard Chen) who owned the warehouse where drugs were found and caretaker Fidel Anoche Dee, businessmen Dong Yi Shen (alias Kenneth Dong, Li Guang Feng (alias Manny Li), Taiwanese nationals Chen I. Myin and Jhu Minh Jyun, customs broker Teejay Marcellana, and owner of EMT Trading Eirene May Tatad.

The ways and means committee said the government lost an estimated P48.3 billion in revenues due to corruption at the BOC while officials amassed P7.7 billion from grease money from July 2016 to July 2017.