MANILA – Officials of the Bureau of Customs faced grilling in the House of Representatives as lawmakers demanded to know how P6.5-billion worth of shabu could have sneaked past BOC inspectors in May this year. House members threatened to give the bureau a zero budget in 2018 if they cannot give a satisfactory explanation for such unprecedented breach.
The chief of staff of Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon was also scolded for calling the Speaker an “imbecile” for proposing to abolish the Court of Appeals.
The shabu was found stored in sealed metal cylinders in a warehouse in Valenzuela during a raid last May 26.
Based on their initial investigation, bureau officials said the chief of the risk management office or RMO, one Larribert Hilario, had failed to encode key information that could have flagged the system on the risk criteria, which inspectors use to stop suspect cargo.
For example, when a shipment is made by a new importer and sole proprietor, the cargo automatically is routed to the red lane, which means it must undergo physical or x-ray examination.
This particular shipment, however, was routed to the greenlane, so it easily left BOC premises at the ports without undergoing inspection.
Hilario has been placed under preventive suspension and will be charged with gross neglect of duty, BOC officials said.
Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon told lawmakers, “it’s only the RMO chief who has the access to the system, [the] only one who has the code risk management office.” For some reason, the added, “the RMO chief did not enter into this specific parameter.”
Nonetheless, some lawmakers did not buy the explanation. Especially when they learned that in three months, at least 652 cargoes had been sneaked into the Philippines by EMT Trading, the firm involved in the Valenzuela contraband.
Rep. Sharon Garin pointed out that, “EMT Trading has several shipments, galing pang China. It shows there is something primarily wrong in the system. [It seems] there is a network happening in the BOC. D accreditation pa lang na-screen nyo na ‘yan, eh. It’s not just a computer error. It’s not just about drugs but the operations happening in the BOC.”
For his part, Rep. Jericho Nograles said, “You are very quick to point out scapegoats . . . Pasa bola . . .” He said that “if it weren’t for China nakalusot na itong droga na ito. All of you have failed. Your presentation is a terrible attempt to wash your hands.”
Garin said Faeldon cannot pin all the blame on Hilario because he was the one who assigned Hilario there.
“That’s command responsibility. If you appoint and then you blame him slone and now you appear as the hero, I cannot accept that. you knew him already. We cannot just put the blame on Hilario. You appointed him,” Garin added, speaking partly in Filipino.
Faeldon replied, “I will accept the command responsibility. All actions fall under me, that is my responsibility. But I never knew Hilario in my entire life.”
‘Imbecile’ tag riles House leaders
Meanwhile, the discussions became more heated after Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas castigated Faeldon’s chief of staff for calling Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez an imbecile for saying he will move to abolish the Court of Appeals.
“You believe, as a government official you can call the fourth highest official of the land an imbecile?” Fariñas demanded of Atty. Mandy Anderson.
The chief of staff of the BOC head replied,”I believe I have the freedom to express my opinion regarding elected officials.”
Fariñas reminded him, “He [Alvarez][ was elected as representative of Davao del Norte, we are 292 elected. We choose our Speaker and then you call us out, who are you? Even the president of the Philippines cannot do that.”
The BOC official replied, “This is my personal page .. That is not meant to be a political statement but a personal opinion.”
Nonetheless, Anderson apologized for making the remark, but the lawmakers were not satisfied.
They asked Faeldon to seriously consider whether the official should remain as his chief of staff.
They also told Faeldon to submit to Congress all documents pertaining to Anderson’s hiring at Customs.
Because of the drug smuggling and the “imbecile” issue, Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo said they will push at the budget hearing that Customs be given a zero budget for 2018.
Lawmakers are set to summon Hilario in the next hearing.
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