MANILA -- Customs chief Isidro Lapeña may have ignored early intelligence reports about the alleged smuggling of illegal drugs to the country from Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China, an official from the bureau claimed Sunday.
Customs Deputy Collector Lourdes Mangaoang said Lapeña knew about the intel reports on smuggled illegal drugs before authorities intercepted 500 kilos of shabu concealed in two magnetic lifters at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) last August 7.
A memorandum, dated August 6, 2018, obtained by ABS-CBN News showed that Ricardo Quinto, Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, sought an approval from Lapeña in opening a container van in relation to these reports.
The document also showed that the intelligence operations, in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), began in May 2018.
"Dapat they scanned shipments na galing sa suspected port of exportation and alerted them. 'Yung mga walang kuwentang shipments ina-alert niya. Ito shabu, wala siyang action. PDEA has no access to import information; Customs lang. Besides former director ng PDEA si Lapeña. Dapat alam niya ang mga bagay na 'to," Mangaoang said.
Three days after authorities seized the narcotics at the MICP, PDEA discovered four empty magnetic lifters in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite while they were hunting for at least P6.8 billion worth of shabu that may have slipped past the Customs.
Mangaoang, who headed the Custom's X-ray Inspection Project, claimed the bureau's X-ray machines detected illegal drugs inside magnetic lifters recovered in Cavite in August.
PDEA also confirmed last Friday that the illegal drugs seized in recent busts, matched those confiscated at the MICP in August.
But Lapeña, in a statement Saturday, said the scientific analysis made by the PDEA did not categorically answer the question on whether or not the four magnetic lifters found in Cavite indeed contained shabu.
He stressed that the shabu seized from the lifters at the MICP, consigned to Vecaba Trading, came from Malaysia, while the lifters consigned to SMYD Trading discovered in Cavite and which were found empty, came from Vietnam.
The Customs chief also said the magnetic lifters found in Cavite went through proper Customs clearance.
Mangaoang blasted Lapeña for his statements, which she thinks can be used by drug smugglers in their defense.
"By saying that said shipment of SMYD Trading went through proper Customs clearance, he is confirming the finding of 'no suspect' by the X-ray inspector and consequently that no contraband was concealed inside the lifters. The shabu smugglers will certainly use Lapeña’s statement as a defense," she said.
Customs denies Mangaoang's allegation
In a statement Sunday, the Bureau of Customs insisted that they only knew of the reported drug shipment on July 16, 2018, as stated on the official reports by key law enforcement and Customs officers.
The Customs also belied claims by Mangaoang that the bureau's X-ray machines have detected drugs in the lifters discovered in Cavite.
"The upper portion image of the magnetic lifters in Cavite are actually wirings, as found by PDEA," the agency stressed.
The Customs also emphasized that Lapeña immediately took action after they intercepted the illegal drug shipment at the MICP, creating an investigation committee on the matter.
Lapeña also immediately revoked the Customs accreditation of SMYD and issued alert orders to its remaining shipments, and ordered district collectors to conduct an examination of all abandoned containers at their respective ports.
"He issued a directive requiring 100% physical examination of all once a year importation to secure the ports from the entry of contraband and illegal drugs," the Customs said.