A HOUSE panel has recommended the abolition of the Bureau of Customs and its replacement with a new agency with no history of corruption, and called for the prosecution of former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon for allegedly protecting a suspected drug lord during an anti-drug operation in Valenzuela City in May that led to the seizure of 604 kilos of shabu worth P6.4 billion.
Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the committee on dangerous drugs, said his panel’s recommendation was for Congress to pass legislation to replace the Bureau of Customs with a new revenue collection agency “to avoid corruption and to increase revenue collection.”
The new agency, he said, would “strengthen border control function while providing for utmost convenience in the flow of goods.”
“The system may consider privatization of non-sovereign functions which will be part of an extensive study to be conducted by the Department of Finance,” the panel said.
Barbers said that based on the results of its investigation, Faeldon could have violated the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 by knowingly, willfully and deliberately shielding, harboring and screening alleged drug lord Chen Ju Long, general manager of Hong Fei Logistics, located at No. 5510 Aster St., De Casto Subd., Paso de Blas, Valenzuela City.
Chen Ju Long, a.k.a Richard Tan and Richard Chen, is a Chinese businessman who reportedly tipped off the BoC officials led by BoC Intelligence Officer Niel Estrella about the huge shabu shipment, led authorities to his warehouse, and allowed the opening and of five cylindrical metal containers where 604 kilos of shabu were found. The shipment came from China.
“During one of the two hearings we conducted, PDEA-NCR Director Wilkins Villanuea testified that he was inclined to treat Chen Ju Long as a suspect and pursue charges for his participation in the illegal importation,” Barbers said.
“But Customs officials including Faeldon and Estrella, according to Director Villanueva, refused and instead insisted that Mr. Chen Ju Long was not a suspect but an informant and thus free from any responsibility,” he added.
Barbers said the panel also recommended to the Office of the Ombudsman the investigation and filing of charges against Faeldon for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for failure to turn over the 604 kilos of shabu seized to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agecy; engaging the services and payment of fat salaries for basketball and volleyball players; conduct of illegal and unauthorized ‘controlled delivery’ of drugs; and failure to initiate an investigation and the filing of a complaint for violations of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in connection with the 604 kilos of shabu shipped or imported under EMT Trading.
Barbers said his panel called for a preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice against Faeldon for officially designating lawyer Mandy Therese Anderson, Faeldon’s chief of staff, for signing the daily time records of hired basketball and volleyball players, which constitutes falsification and usurpation of authority under the Revised Penal Code.
Barbers said the panel also recommended the investigation and filing of charges against Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service Director Neil Estrella, also for violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The panel also pushed for the filing of complaint against BoC Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala before the DoJ for violation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation-Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division led by lawyer Dennis Siyhian and Catherine Nolaco were also recommended to be charged for gross neglect of duty or gross misconduct committed for violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act, existing Dangerous Drugs Board regulations, civil service laws, rules and regulations.
Other BoC agents under Estrella, identified as Joel Pinawin, Oliver Valiente, among others were also recommended to be charged with alleged planting of evidence and conduct of controlled delivery without PDEA chief’s approval.
Aside from Chen Ju Long, the panel recommended the filing of criminal charges against Dong Yi Shen a.k.a. Kenneth Dong of No. 47 Gardentown Homes, Humility St., Multinational Village, Moonwalk, Parañaque City; Li Guang Feng a.k.a. Manny Li of No. 1027(07A) Benavidez St. Binondo, Manila; Eirene Mae A. Tatad, Proprietor of EMT Trading Rm. 807, Dasma Corp. Bldg., No. 32 Dasmariñas St., Binondo, Manila; Teejay A. Marcellana of Room 534, 5th Flr. FEMII Bldg., A. Soriano Ave., Intramuros, Manila; and Mark Ruben G. Taguba II (granted legislative immunity), proprietor Golden Strike Logistics with offices at No. 1763 LE Unit 15, Paz Guanzon St. Paco, Manila for their various roles in the importation of the P6.4 shabu seized in Valenzuela City. They were recommended to be charged with alleged importation of illegal drugs under Section 4 of RA 9165.
In the Senate, Senator Panfilo Lacson questioned Faeldon allegation that his son was involved in cement smuggling.
“Is there such a thing as smuggling of cement between Asean countries?” Lacson asked, noting that there is a zero tarriff for cement under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area and even the Asean-China Free Trade Area.
Faeldon had earlier accused Lacson’s son, Panfilo Lacson Jr., of smuggling cement after Lacson delivered a privilege speech detailing corruption at the BoC, such as payoffs made to Customs officials including Faeldon.
But an online tool of the Tariff Commission indicated Portland cement has zero tariff in the ACFTA, a free trade area between China and the 10 Asean member states including the Philippines.
“What will you undervalue if there is zero tariff?” Lacson asked.