Senate President to ask Aguirre to explain dismissal of Faeldon's drug raps

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre needs to explain the dismissal of drug charges against Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials linked to the smuggling of the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China.

Senate President Koko Pimentel said this on Thursday when asked if the Senate will probe the Justice Department's latest decision clearing from drug charges former BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and his men.

"Bibigyan namin ang Department of Justice na magpaliwanag sila, formally or informally, pwede in writing. Tatanungin ko si Secretary Aguirre (We will ask the Department of Justice to explain, formally or informally or in writing. I will ask Secretary Aguirre)," Pimentel told reporters.

He said he might personally talk to his "friend" Aguirre about it.

"Kasi ako mismo na kaibigan niya ay nagtataka (Because even I, his friend, am confused)," he added.     

Aguirre in a statement said the case is still on the preliminary stage with the panel of prosecutors and his office "still has nothing to do with the proceedings there."

He said he has not read the resolution, but "we are ready and willing to face anybody to justify the DOJ Resolution."

The Justice Department's panel of prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed the charges against Faeldon, Import Assessment Services Director Milo Maestrecampo and Intelligence Director Neil Estrella; Intelligence Officers Joel Pinawin, Oliver Valiente; and other officials, Atty. Jeleena Magsuci, Atty. Philip Maronilla, Alexandra Y. Ventura, Randolph O. Cabansag, Dennis J. Maniego, Dennis Cabildo and John Edillor.

The prosecutors said evidence cited by the complainant, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, failed to support illegal drug importation charges against the accused.

Read more: DOJ drops charges against Faeldon, 13 ex-Customs officials

Aguirre on Thursday clarified, "Our department is resolving cases only on the basis of evidence submitted to us. They could have found evidence of culpability of any BOC officers during the Senate Investigation but if they were not presented to us, then they will not be considered."

Some senators 'shocked, angered'

In separate strongly-worded statements on Thursday, some members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee who investigated the controversy questioned the Justice Department's move.

Senator Ping Lacson said many of his fellow lawmakers were "shocked and angered by the dismissal of the case against all the BOC personnel."

Senators Lacson and Bam Aquino said legislative hearings at the Senate proved the liability of the Customs officials.

"Sa aming pagdinig sa Senado, kitang-kita na hindi mangyayari ang pagpasok ng droga sa bansa kung walang kasabwat sa loob ng BOC (Senate hearings clearly showed the smuggling won't happen without the help of BOC officers). It takes two to tango," Aquino said.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of the administration, said Faeldon's case reminded him of Supt. Marvin Marcos. Marcos was accused of killing Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, but is now back in the police force.

"Kapag mga mahihirap, patay agad. Pero kapag alagad ni Duterte, abswelto sa kaso. Gaya lang yan ni Supt. Marcos (Poor people are killed. But Duterte's men are acquitted. Just like the case of Supt. Marcos)," Trillanes said.

Even Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon said he partly disagrees with the Justice Department's findings.

"There is yet no final evidence to establish that Customs personnel are not in any way liable for the importation of drugs and on its entry into the green lane. Further investigation must be made to determine their liability," he said.

Faeldon to stay in detention

Despite the Justice Department clearing him, Faeldon will stay detained at Senate, Pimentel said.

"Ang case kasi ni Faeldon sa Senate ay contempt. Iba po iyon (Faeldon's case at the Senate is contempt. That's different)," Pimentel said.

Faeldon has been detained at the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms since September 11 for refusing to attend hearings into the shabu shipment. Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña replaced him as Customs chief.

Faeldon on Wednesday said the dismissal of his drug raps has reaffirmed his faith in the justice system. He had repeatedly denied allegations against him and his men, including that they received "tara" or payoffs to ease the release of shipments.

Related: Drugs and 'tara': What we know about Customs mess

What we know

The controversial 604-kilogram shabu shipment, one of the biggest hauls of smuggled drugs in the country, passed through the BOC as kitchenware last May 17.

It took the BOC more than a week to discover the unhampered entry of drugs, which were delivered to two warehouses in Valenzuela City on May 24.

At dawn on May 26, Customs officials found the bags of shabu hidden in five solid steel cylinders used in printing presses, each a foot in diameter.

Instead of Customs officials, the Justice Department filed charges against a Customs fixer, middlemen and businessmen allegedly involved in the smuggling.

Read more: DOJ files drug charges vs. customs fixer Taguba, 11 others over P6.4B shabu shipment