By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
Claiming incredulity that 600 kilos of shabu worth PHP 6.4 billion slipped past the Bureau of Customs (BoC) without connivance from its personnel, the Senate wants Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre to explain why the Department of Justice (DoJ) dropped drug charges against former Customs Commisioner Nicanor Faeldon and other officials.
Many lawmakers were dismayed, disappointed and some were even enraged when Aguirre said Faeldon and the other Customs officials linked to the multi-billion smuggling of shabu from Xiamen, China, were cleared of fhe charges.
“Those charged were only private citizens. How did that happen since the case involved 600 kilos? It is hard to believe that this happened without (an inside job),” said Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
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.
Aside from Faeldon, also cleared of the drug charges 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 Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, was the one who recommended the filing of charges against Faeldon and other BoC officials.
Pimentel said they will give the DoJ the chance to explain, formally or informally, it can also be in writing.
“ I will ask Sec. Aguirre,” said Pimentel, adding that if those behind the smuggling were not in cahoots with BoC personnel, why did the huge shipment enter the country?
“If no one from Customs (was involved), I mean (this is not clear). How could 600 plus kilos of shabu and a big shipment slip past Customs without (an inside job)?” he asked.
Liberal Party senators expressed dismay over the justice department’s decision to clear several former BoC officials. LP President Francis Pangilinan said they were allowed to go scot-free, leaving only the poor and powerless.
“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?” asked Pangilinan.
Sen. Bam Aquino said the decision is saddening because only the small fry were charged while those the big fish were saved, allowing the drug flow into the country.
“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,” he said.
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.
“The PDEA should be relentless in pursuing this case because this is clearly destroying the justice system in the country,” said Drilon.
The DoJ also dismissed the charges filed by PDEA against several former and current BoC officials including Faeldon; National Bureau of Investigation-Anti Organized Transnational Crimes Division (NBI-AOTCD) officers; corporate officers of Hong Fei Logistics; and warehouse owner Emily Anoche Dee and her brother Fidel Anoche Dee.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who accused Faeldon of receiving PHP 100 million “welcoming gift” upon assuming his post, said, “The dismissal is not yet final because there’s an automatic review by the SoJ (Secretary of Justice). And to the prosecutors assigned to conduct the PI (preliminary investigations, so it will now be elevated to the SoJ for his automatic review.
Let’s wait muna for the final disposition bago tayo mag-speculate,” he said.
However, Faeldon’s camp maintained his innocence asserting that the decision was proof that he did nothing wrong as Customs chief.
Meanwhile, Pimentel said he will meet with fellow senators to find out their sentiments as well. He said the senators would also collectively decide on whether Faeldon should remain in the Senate detention facility despite the upcoming holidays.
However, he said they can release Faeldon only if he “cleansed” himself from the contemptuous deed he committed when he refused to appear before the Senate hearings.
“So what is the solution? Yes, you agree to appear. If not, the contempt is still there,” he said.
Pimentel said he would likewise discuss with Aguirre about the DoJ dropping the charges against executives of the Philippine Remittance Service Inc., which figured prominently in the alleged laundering of millions of dollars hacked from the Bangladesh government’s bank account in New York.
Even in the Bangladesh money fraud, he said the DoJ also did not charge PhilRem.
“I need to know why…so, medyo madami dami na ‘tong kailangan nating itanong kay Sec. Aguirre,” he added.
The DoJ has indicted in court dismissed Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Bank Manager Maia Deguito in connection with the $81 million in funds stolen by hackers from Bangladesh’s bank account last year.
However, Aguirre said the DoJ found no basis to indict before the Makati regional trial court Philrem owner-spouses Salud Bautista and Michael “Concon” Bautista and PhilRem Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officer Anthony Pelejo for violations of the anti-money laundering law.