MANILA, Philippines – Since the start of the week, Bureau of Customs officials led by Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon have been blaming suspended BOC risk management officer Larrybert Hilario for failing to enter crucial information on an illegal shipment.
The clerical shortcoming, they say, allowed some P6.4 billion worth of shabu to pass through the BOC’s express green lane undetected.
But Hilario vehemently denied the accusation when he finally showed up in Congress on Wednesday, August 2, during the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs’ inquiry on how the drug shipment was able to enter the country right under BOC’s nose and the agency’s alleged mishandling of the May 26 raid when the narcotics were seized.
“Ako po ay humaharap sa komite para pabulaanan ang paratang na mayroon akong kinalaman sa pagpasok ng P6.4-billion shabu sa BOC [I am facing the committee,” said Hilario.
He said he even flagged the consignment for inspection after noticing that a customs broker with a bad record vouched for the new merchant.
But Hilario said the BOC’s Imports and Assessment Division allegedly ignored his request.
“Kung pinakinggan lang ako sana na-hold ang shipment at nagkaroon ng physical inspection. Hindi po sana nailabas ang importation ng EMT Trading kung nagkaroon lamang ng full physical exam,” he said.
[Had they listened to me, the shipment could have been put on hold and subjected to physical inspection. Had there been full physical exam, EMT Trading could not have released the importation.]
During the House inquiry, lawmakers again quizzed BOC officials after Hilario claimed that he was not properly informed about his suspension.
House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas was skeptical of the BOC’s account of how it was able to track down the illegal shipment after it breezed through Customs.
Neil Estrella, director of the BOC’s Customs Intelligence and Investigative Service, said he thought that those behind the shipment were cooling off and watching if somebody was following them when BOC operatives caught the importation before the owners were able to call to have it delivered to them.
“Tingin ko binabantayan nila kung sila ay nasundan. Pinapalamig muna nila. Naunahan namin ang tawag nila na i-deliver ang shipment,” said Estrella.
Earlier in the day, Faeldon criticized government officials who allegedly wanted to influence promotions at the bureau.
“They want me to influence the promotion board so that their people here would be promoted. And I tell them right in their face I will never lift a finger to influence promotions here. That is a form of corruption,” said Faeldon.
“But please I’m appealing to you. You know your request is a form of corruption and you insist and magagalit pa kayo [you will even get angry]. My God! Shame on you! This is not your property. This is the Filipinos’ Bureau of Customs so don’t act like you own this,” he added.
Congressmen parried allegations of corruption levelled against them by Faeldon, saying there was nothing wrong if lawmakers lobby for the promotion of some employees of the agency.
“And, if Faeldon listens to his fiancee’s advice, as what he told an earlier congressional inquiry about the P6.4 billion smuggled drugs, why can’t he heed the words of lawmakers who were elected by the people, Quezon City Rep. Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo said.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay acknowledged that he had recommended a person in the bureau.
“I recommended one, but it doesn’t mean that when you recommend one he is not qualified. If he’s not qualified then it’s up to you,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong in politicians recommending because we are representatives of the people,” Pichay added.
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