Pinoy trader gets 30 years in HK prison for drug trafficking

By Carina Roncesvalles, The Philippine Star

Posted at Sep 01 2012 04:49 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2012 12:49 AM

HONG KONG – A 41-year-old Filipino businessman from Imus, Cavite was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison for drug trafficking.

Voting 6 to 1, the jury found Bernard Garcia guilty of trafficking 9 kilos of heroin and morphine.

Judge Derek Pang imposed a 28-year prison term on Garcia for the “staggering quantity of drugs” and added two years for the importation of drugs from abroad.

“The starting point in this case is one of 30 years: 28 years for the quantity of drugs and 2 years as enhancement for international trafficking,” Pang said.

“As the defendant contested the case and can offer no mitigation, that figure stands. The defendant will go to prison for 30 years.”

Garcia kept his head down when the sentence was read.

Pang told the jury yesterday the key issue was whether Garcia knew that he had imported dangerous drugs into Hong Kong.

Garcia was arrested on July 28, 2011 for allegedly bringing in 19.67 kilos of drug mixture: 7.95 kilos of heroin and 1.05 kilos of morphine.

It had a street value of around HK$13 million.

Garcia was stopped at Hong Kong airport with his wife, nephew, and two children, aged two and three years old.

His three-year-old son was sitting on top of two suitcases containing the dangerous drugs.

Garcia had traveled from the Philippines to Malaysia and Vietnam before coming to Hong Kong in transit to Guangzhou, China.

Garcia was pushing a trolley containing two suitcases and two traveling bags when a Customs officer stopped him.

When questioned, the father of seven denied knowing that the two suitcases and the two traveling bags contained dangerous drugs.

Nearly five kilos of drug mixture were found in the sealed compartments of the first luggage; almost four kilos of drugs were found in the second luggage.

In his testimony, Garcia said he carried the empty white suitcase as “pakisuyo (a favor)” for Filipino couple Dennis and Marie whom he met in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Dennis asked him to return the suitcase to its owner in China where they were headed, Garcia added.

Garcia, who had worked in Saudi Arabia for 11 years, said Filipinos traditionally bring a baggage for fellow Filipinos as a favor.

Dennis had given him the second empty gray suitcase as a gift, he added.

Two packages containing more than five kilos of drug mixture each were found in the two other traveling bags, which Garcia’s family had originally brought from Manila.

Garcia said Dennis had kept their two traveling bags overnight to help them lighten their load.

He had entrusted his bags to Dennis because he is a fellow Filipino, he added.

Garcia said Dennis, who had failed to pick them up from their hotel as originally planned, returned the two bags just in time for their check-in at the airport.

The two traveling bags had new padlocks, he added.

Garcia said Dennis told him he must give the gaskets placed in the traveling bags to someone in Guangzhou.

He did not suspect that the gaskets contained dangerous drugs, he added.

In cross-examining Garcia, Prosecutor Robert Whitehouse said his story was a “complete fabrication.”

“This excuse you put forward, a favor system, I suggest is complete nonsense,” Whitehouse said.

“Did it not strike you as strange that Dennis was taking all the trouble to get this perfectly ordinary suitcase back to China?”

However, Garcia countered that each country has its own tradition like the “favor system” in the Philippines.

Whitehouse said that as a well-traveled and educated businessman, Garcia should have known the risk of carrying another person’s luggage.

Garcia surely noticed the heavy weight of the illegal drugs, he added.

Whitehouse said no “innocent courier” would be entrusted with HK$13-million worth of illegal drugs.

Garcia traveled with his family to “cover up” his involvement in the drug run, he added.

Garcia said he did not suspect that the suitcases and the bags contained dangerous drugs.

He denied that he was supposed to give the suitcase to someone in Hong Kong.

Whitehouse presented seven witnesses, including Customs officers and airport inspectors, as witnesses against Garcia in court.

The drug trafficking charges against Garcia’s wife Maria Luisa and his nephew Gerald Anthony Justiniano were dismissed at the Eastern Magistrates’ Court last December.

They had been detained for almost five months since they were arrested in July 2011.

Garcia operates a water refilling station that used to earn P40,000 monthly. His wife has a ready-to-wear business and sari-sari store.

Three Filipino tourists received heavy prison terms earlier this year on charges of trafficking in dangerous drugs.

Lolito Balila was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment, Janric Domingo to 17 years, and Analyn Ingalla had been sentenced to 17 years and 4 months in prison.

Balila was arrested in August last year for carrying more than 25 kilos of illegal drugs consisting of more than 10 kilos of heroin and almost 2 kilos of morphine.

Domingo was caught bringing in more than 5 kilos of drug mixture containing 2 kilos of heroin in July last year.