MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he continues to stand by Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, amid calls by various lawmakers for the embattled official to resign after some P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China slipped past the Port of Manila.
“But Faeldon, I will stand by him. He’s really honest,” Duterte said in a speech in Malacañang during the celebration of the 19th founding anniversary of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).
The President earlier said he would wait for the result of a congressional probe on the P6.4 billion shabu shipment before he decides on the fate of Faeldon, one of the former military men given plum posts in the current administration.
In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Faeldon admitted that he was aware of the "tara" (grease money) system at the Customs bureau long before he assumed his post.
Faeldon, however, said he was not able to investigate the existing system because he had no teammates to help him look into such large-scale corruption scheme.
Talks of alleged widespread corruption in Customs resurfaced after authorities seized the P6.4 billion worth of shabu from a Valenzuela warehouse in May.
The Customs chief stressed that it would be very hard for him to man all ports in the country and conduct investigations simultaneously.
"Admittedly, I failed to investigate it because I cannot do it alone. I was the only one appointed up to late last year. The people I have worked with there are the people I suspect doing the tara," Faeldon said.
Faeldon said, since Day 1, he has been asking businessmen and importers to identify people asking them for tara so the government can address the problem.
"12,000 po sila (importers). Nakikiusap ako, please go to my office and tell me who are these people asking for tara. Until today, none of the 12,000 importers have come up with a name of any official of the bureau," he said.
Duterte backed Faeldon’s reasoning, saying corruption indeed continues to be widespread in the bureau despite his vow to end corruption in government.
“Kaya lang nalusutan siya because lahat diyan sa Customs, corrupt. My God,” the President said.
“I hope I would not offend any particular person but almost all [are corrupt]. Sila ‘yung magagandang bahay…magaganda ang kotse,” he added.
The President said he was also exasperated after learning that “the very agency I was relying on to protect us from the smuggling of drugs from abroad, ‘yun pala ang nag-i-import rin ng drugs (were the ones importing illegal drugs).”
Duterte has been criticized by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and even Senator Panfilo Lacson for his supposed weak response to the controversy hounding Customs and Faeldon.
Duterte earlier said he may not be able to solve the drug scourge within his term, noting how the United States, the world’s most powerful country, continue to grapple with the problem of illegal drugs.
Nonetheless, he renewed his vow to end the problem. This, however, may entail more killings, he said.
“So I will be able to solve the problem. Patayin ko lang ‘yan lahat. But how about the next generation? Eh ‘di talagang mag-wala ako,” he said.
The Duterte administration has many times defended its drug war against critics, saying reported figures- from 7,000 to 9,000- were overblown.
Recent PNP data show that a total of 3,451 drug personalities were killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to July 26, 2017.
The PNP has also determined that out of the 12,833 homicide cases from July 1, 2016 to June 16, 2017, 2,098 deaths were drug-related and 2,535 not drug-related. A total of 8,200 homicide cases were under investigation "with motives to be determined," the PNP said.