Ex-rebel officers in govt: how Customs shabu smuggling mess divides them

August 10, 2017 - 4:05 PM
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Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV/REUTERS FILE PHOTO

MANILA – Once upon a time, they were rebel officers who deemed it their patriotic duty to fight a regime that had disillusioned them. Today, all of them are in government, but not necessarily on the same side — especially not on the matter of the P6-billion shabu smuggling that has put the Bureau of Customs in the hot seat in parallel hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV validated on Thursday the claims of three key players in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny that he led, that they are not part of the Magdalo Group, the group he led that became a party-list and which propelled his political career from detained mutineer to elected senator. Trillanes was referring to Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and his two aides: Deputy Commissioner Gerry Gambala and Director Milo Maestrecampo, who said recently they are not members of Magdalo.

Maestrecampo announced his resignation on Tuesday, saying he did not wish to continue with a cloud hanging over his head even as he completely denied any wrongdoing.

On Thursday, Trillanes was ready to vouch for Maestrecampo’s integrity, as well as Gambala’s, even though the two men were not part of his Magdalo Group.

Yes, Trillanes said, “they are not part of the Magdalo Group. However, having known well enough my PMA classmates, Gerry Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo, I am almost certain that they are not part of the syndicate that facilitated the release of this 6-billion-peso shabu shipment.”

Trillanes then added, “Having said that, the various investigations which they have bravely faced, ultimately, would determine their guilt or innocence.”

He had a different view of Faeldon, however. Trillanes said, “I have enough information to say that he is at the heart of this controversy. And once he is done malingering, I hope he musters enough courage to face the grilling of the Senators and Congressmen.”

Earlier this week, Rep. Gary Alejano, who was also with the rebel officers once, said he also could not conclude that the ex-officers in Customs are guilty of wrongdoing. “Sa akin naman for purposes of getting out the truth, ayoko magsabi ng patapos, pero the fact that they went through that exercise before I believe hindi nawala sa amin yan (idealism). In fact what we’re doing right now is in pursuit of what we’ve started,” said Alejano.

To people who wonder why Magdalo, which is known as “opposition,” is serving the Duterte administration, Alejano said they explain to these critics, there was nothing wrong if they want to serve the President; let them serve.”

He said “I cannot say they [Faeldon et al] are Magdalo,” but added that the former military officers should be ready for the possibility that “pwede silang ikutan” [some unscrupulous groups in the agency might continue wrongdoing behind their back].”

Meanwhile Alejano noted that, for the past year, thousands have been killed in the controversial war on drugs by the Duterte administration, and besides the low-level distributors, several high-profile mayors (in Leyte, Ozamiz City and Maguindanao) have been killed as well. Why, he wondered aloud, would someone still have the guts to bring in that much shabu into the country, unless he were confident about connections to high places?

“Pero narinig nyo ba ang president na nagwala, narinig nyo bang nagsabi na habulin yan, kasi billions yang drugs na ‘yan eh. Bakiat hindi ka nagwala? Maybe kasi galing sa China– you don’t want to offend China?” Alejano asked.