MANILA (UPDATE) - Former Customs chief Isidro Lapeña's transfer to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) was planned even before the ongoing controversy over a P6.8 billion shipment of shabu erupted, a Palace spokesman said Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he “promoted” Lapeña and gave him a Cabinet position, as the government reels from criticism over the Customs’ failure to block the supposed drug shipment.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the transfer had nothing to do with the shabu shipment issue as this had been planned long ago.
“With respect to Commissioner Lapeña, alam mo matagal nang naka ano iyon… naka-ready i-transfer sa TESDA. Kaya lang nadali kasi—alam mo si Presidente, ano siya, he wants to spare him from intrigue dahil sinisiraan nang husto eh,” Panelo told dwFM.
(With respect to Commissioner Lapeña, he had long been set for transfer to TESDA. The President wanted to spare him from intrigue because he was being smeared.)
Lapeña's promotion was supposed to be announced next week, Panelo told radio DZMM.
"To spare him from the vilification, na-advance yung announcement ng kaniyang promotion (the announcement of his promotion was advanced). Dapat yan next week pa sana eh (It was supposed to be next week)," he said.
"Pero dahil sa sinisiraan nang husto, eh alam mo si Presidente malambot ang puso niya. Ayaw niya yung mga miyembro ng gabinete niya sinisiraan, naaapektuhan yung mga pamilya kaya nilipat niya na."
(But because he was being discredited, you know the President he has a soft heart. He doesn't like his Cabinet members to be vilified, their families affected, that's why he transferred Lapeña.)
Lapeña will be replaced by Maritime Industry Authority administrator Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
The movement comes as Lapeña came under fire after four empty magnetic lifters suspected to have contained shabu were found in Cavite in August.
At the time the magnetic lifters were found in Cavite, the PDEA and the BOC had just intercepted 500 kilograms of shabu concealed in two other magnetic lifters at the Manila International Container Port (MICP), raising suspicion that those found empty in Cavite had also contained shabu.
Lapeña initially belied PDEA's allegation then recently backtracked.
‘RECYCLING INCOMPETENT OFFICIALS’
Lawmakers have questioned Lapeña’s transfer to TESDA, saying the former military man may not have what it takes to run such an institution.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said Lapeña’s transfer “demonstrates that President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is a recycling bin for the corrupt and incompetent.”
“That President Duterte continues to express ‘trust’ in Lapeña despite his gross failings and the suspicion of corruption is a clear indication that this government is not interested in holding people to the standards of accountability,” she said in a statement.
“This is not an administration of the best and the brightest. This is not a government with the best interests of the country at heart. This is a regime of questionable characters and even more questionable competence.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, meanwhile, said Lapeña’s transfer was meant to put an end to the investigation into the drug shipment, which the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency now estimates to be actually worth P11 billion, not P6.8 billion.
“Once again, the President is engaging in theatrics rather than in actually rooting out corruption and stemming the flow of illegal drugs from abroad,” Tinio said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Lapeña’s transfer is part of the ongoing “militarization” of the bureaucracy. The President has repeatedly defended his appointment of military men to various government agencies, saying individuals with military background work more efficiently and carry out orders better.
"Guerrero would be the 61st military appointee to the civil government and strengthens the de facto military junta now in placed in the country," Zarate claimed.
"Having no proven competence nor knowledge on the agencies they are assigned in, these former military men just follow orders from the top. Yet, they just remain silent when corruption is exposed in their department then they are reassigned to another agency like what happened to Faeldon and Lapena.”
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, meanwhile, said
Lapeña’s transfer “encourages and perpetuates impunity and corruption in government.”
“Moreover, constant changing of leadership does not help in setting a clear direction for policy implementation,” Alejano added.