Lapeña absolved from administrative charges but graft complaint endorsed to Ombudsman
MANILA—(UPDATED) Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors have indicted former police officer Eduardo Acierto, former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) deputy chief Ismael Fajardo Jr., and former Bureau of Customs (BoC) intelligence officer Jimmy Guban on illegal-drug charges over the multi-billion peso shabu shipment that allegedly slipped past Customs after being hidden inside magnetic lifters.
In a resolution dated April 8, excerpts of which were obtained by the media Wednesday, a panel of prosecutors led by Assistant State Prosecutor Mary Jane Sytat recommended the filing of illegal importation of dangerous drugs case — under Section 4 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act — against Acierto, Fajardo, Guban and 5 others over two incidents of smuggling of shabu.
They also endorsed to the Office of the Ombudsman criminal complaints for graft and neglect in prosecution of offenses against former Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña.
But they recommended the dismissal of the drug smuggling complaints against more than 40 others, composed of Customs officials, shippers, consignees and brokers implicated in the scandal, as well as the dismissal of other administrative and criminal complaints for lack of probable cause.
Acierto, Fajardo and Guban were identified by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as the core conspirators in the criminal and administrative complaints it filed with the DOJ in January this year.
At the time the magnetic lifters shipments were made in August 2018, Fajardo was both the PDEA OIC-deputy director for administration and the regional director for NCR, Acierto was a dismissed police officer who was formerly deputy for operations of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drug Special Task Force, and Guban was a career intelligence officer of the BOC.
The NBI said the 3 knew about the shabu shipments from Malaysia.
“Instead of alerting all ports, DDGA Fajardo and Guban did not make a necessary coordination to intercept the shipment, as they knew that the shipment belongs to or connected with Col. Acierto,” the NBI alleged.
“What is worse is the fact that despite the joint operations of the PNP and PDEA, the four lifters were not intercepted in Region 4.”
Acierto recently came out of hiding to accuse former Duterte economic adviser Michael Yang of involvement in the illegal drug trade. He also claimed the President himself ignored reports about Yang’s activities.
He said he was being set up and implicated in the magnetic lifters shabu shipment case after he sent a report to then-Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa and PDEA chief Aaron Aquino detailing Yang’s alleged illicit activities.
Dela Rosa had acknowledged Acierto approached him once about Yang but dismissed his credibility.
Aquino, on other hand, acknowledged seeing the report but said they had a hard time validating the information.
Guban, meanwhile, testified in the Senate and accused Acierto of asking his help to smuggle shabu into the country. He is currently under the witness protection program of the DOJ.
Fajardo had not surfaced and, like Acierto, did not participate in the DOJ probe.
HOW IT BEGAN
The case stemmed from the discovery of 2 abandoned magnetic lifters at the Port of Manila in August 2018, which contained 355 kilos of shabu worth P2.4 billion.
A day after, 4 similar lifters were discovered abandoned at a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez town, Cavite, which the PDEA believes to have contained 1.6 tons of shabu worth an estimated P11 billion.
The 2 incidents became the subject of several Senate and House hearings, with Lapeña initially denying that the magnetic lifters found in Cavite contained shabu, only to concede later on.
In August 2018, PDEA filed an illegal drug importation complaint against 4 respondents involved in the shabu shipment at the Port of Manila.
In December 2018, PDEA filed criminal complaints against more than 40 respondents over the shabu shipment in Cavite. The respondents included Acierto, Fajardo and Guban but Lapeña was excluded because the PDEA said it found no evidence linking him to the smuggling of shabu.
In January, the NBI filed complaints for importation of illegal drugs, graft and grave misconduct against the three while it slapped Lapeña and other officials with 2 counts each of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and administrative complaints of dereliction of duty and grave misconduct.
The DOJ consolidated all 3 complaints.
The other 5 personalities to be charged with illegal importation of dangerous drugs are:
-Chan Yee Wah Albert alias KC Chan/Fhonie Chan/Albert Chan/Chen Fong Hsiang
-Zhou Quan alias Zhang Quan/Zhauq Quan
-Vedasto Baraquel, Jr.
-Maria Lagrimas Catipan
All 5 were allegedly behind VECABA Trading, the consignee of the 2 unclaimed magnetic lifters at the Port of Manila where 355 kilos of shabu worth P2.4 billion were found.
In the same resolution, the DOJ dismissed the grave misconduct complaint against Lapeña but endorsed the complaints for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and neglect in the prosecution of offenses under the Revised Penal Code to the Office of the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation.
The NBI faulted Lapeña over his alleged failure to file complaints against the consignees, importers and brokers involved in the importation of the magnetic lifters.
But in his counter-affidavit, Lapeña listed the steps he took immediately after the discovery of the magnetic lifters: the creation of an investigation committee, the revocation of accreditation of some traders and brokers, the filing of criminal complaint against a trader in August 2018 and the filing of administrative charges against some Customs personnel including Guban. He also said he coordinated with PDEA.
He also defended his initial belief that there were no drugs in the magnetic lifters found in Cavite. He had relied on the negative result of the swab test while PDEA relied on the actions of drug-sniffing canines.
The DOJ panel of prosecutors also dismissed complaints of false testimony and subornation of perjury against other respondents, as well as obstruction of justice and grave misconduct complaints against some BOC officials.