MANILA – (UPDATE, 6:27 P.M) Senate President Koko Pimentel wants Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to explain the Department of Justice’s decision to clear former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and several of his top aides of culpability in the smuggling last May of P6.4 billion worth of methampethamine hydrochloride (shabu) into the country via the Bureau of Customs green lane.
Pimentel finds it hard to believe that no one in Customs had a hand in enabling the smuggling using precisely the fast-track lane of the bureau, with the shipment being tagged as qualified for non-inspection.
“Yun ang nakakapagtaka at nakakadismaya. Halos lahat parang ang nakasuhan private citizens lang. Paano nangyari yung 600 kilos nakapasok? Mahirap paniwalaan na walang [That’s what’s so shocking and dismaying, that only private citizens were charged. How could 600 kilosof shabu come in? It’s hard to imagine that happening without] cooperation inside,” Pimentel said Thursday.
For minority senator Kiko Pangilinan, the decision is also unacceptable and betrays some bias on the part of DOJ. He said the decision – released Wednesday by DOJ – where it filed charges against Customs broker Mark Taguba and several others, but no Customs employee, for the May 2017 smuggling – is only he last in a pattern of questionable DOJ actions.
Pangilinan cited the DOJ decision to downgrade to homicide the murder charges filed against police officers who gunned down Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. in his detention cell in Leyte.”Pinapalusot pag kakampi nila. Pag kritiko kahit walang ebidensya ay talagang pinipilit kasuhan. Hindi na pwede paniwalaan itong findings ng DOJ [They clear their allies and file charges against critics, no matter how baseless. The DOJ findings are hard to believe],” Pangilinan added.
For his part, Sen. Richard Gordon, who as chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee led the inquiry into the shabu smuggling, is hoping, like Pangilinan, that the Office of the Ombudsman would step in because public officials are involved in the issue.
Gordon thinks Faeldon should be charged, at least for negligence, and for setting up the new system at BOC that centralized everything in a command center, which made it easy for the multibillion-peso shabu to enter the country undetected.
Faeldon, a former Marine captain, has been two months in the Senate’s detention facility since senators cited him in contempt last September for refusing to face the Gordon committee. However, until now Faeldon says he has no plan to face the senators or request them to free him.
Faeldon’s camp says his condition is fine, and he is pleased with the DOJ decision clearing him.
Atty. Jose Dino, Faeldon’s lawyer, said his client is “there [Senate detention unit] in the first place because of the message that he wanted to impart to the Filipino people [that] nobody has to face an investigation in aid of persecution.”
For Gordon however, Faeldon’s continuing snub of the Senate could mean he will stay much longer – even years – in detention.
In the view of Pimentel, however, the senators might consider setting Faeldon free as Christmas approaches – but for as long as he agrees to attend hearings.
Reacting the senators’ sense of dismay, Aguirre explained the DOJ’s rationale: “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.”
As of this stage, Aguirre added, “the case is still in the preliminary stage and the Office of the Secretary (OSEC) has still nothing to do with the proceedings there. As a matter of fact, I have not yet read the Resolution of the National Prosecution Service. But the OSEC has the power of automatic review of drug cases.”
He then chided his critics: “I suggest that before any person makes any comment, they should read the complaint and the subject resolution. We are ready and willing to face any body to justify the DOJ Resolution.”
Liberal senators dismayed
Also on Thursday, Partido Liberal senators expressed dismay over the DOJ decision to clear several former Customs officials.
“Kapag kakampi pinalulusot at iyong mga maliliit at mahihina lang ang hinahabol (Allies are allowed to go scot-free, going after only the poor and powerless),” said LP president Pangilinan in reaction to the DOJ resolution clearing former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and directors Milo Maestrecampo and Neil Estrella.
“Ano bang alam ni Faeldon na hindi natin alam? Sadya ba talaga silang pinalusot upang hindi natin malaman kung sino talaga ang nasa likod ng napakalaking shipment ng shabu na ito (What does Faeldon know that we don’t? Were they deliberately allowed off the hook so that we won’t know who are behind this enormous shipment of shabu?)” added Pangilinan.
Also cleared were Customs intelligence officerS Joel Pinawin and Oliver Valiente, lawyers Jeleena Magsuci and Philip Maronilla, and personnel Alexandra Ventura, Randolph Cabansag, Dennis Maniego, Dennis Cabildo, and John Edillor.
The DOJ found probable cause to charge several others for importation of dangerous drugs, including Richard Tan, owner of the Valenzuela warehouse where the shabu shipment was found, businessman Kenneth Dong, Manny Li, customs fixer Mark Ruben Taguba II, EMT Trading owner Eirene Mae Tatad, broker Teejay Marcellana, Chen Min, Jhu Ming Jhun and Chen Rong Huan, and other unidentified individuals known only as John Doe, Jane Doe, and George Doe.
“Nakakalungkot ang desisyong ito dahil puro pribadong indibidwal lang ang kinasuhan habang ligtas naman sa asunto ang mga nagkuntsabahan para makalusot ang droga sa bansa (This decision is saddening because only private individuals were charged while those who connived are saved to keep open the drug flow into the country),” said Sen. Bam Aquino.
“Ito ang mapait na katotohanan sa giyera kontra droga. Ang mga maliliit na tao, pinapatay habang malaya ang mga taong malalapit sa pamahalaan (This is the bitter truth on the war on drugs: The powerless are killed while those close to the powers-that-be go scot-free),” said Sen. Bam Aquino.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) must appeal the case so that government officials behind the shipment must be punished and jailed.
“Hindi dapat tantanan ng PDEA ang kasong ito dahil ito’y isang malinaw na pagyurak sa sistema ng katarungan sa bansa (The PDEA should be relentless in pursuing this case because this is clearly destroying the justice system in the country),” said Drilon.
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