DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 Oct) — Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña is out, MARINA chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero is in.
Amid confirmation that 1,600 kilos of shabu worth 11 billion pesos concealed in four magnetic lifters slipped through the Bureau of Customs in July and have been flooding the markets nationwide, President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday promoted Lapeña to a Cabinet post and named Guerrero, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff and currently Administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority to take over the corruption-plagued Bureau of Customs.
Director General Aaron Aquino of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in a press conference on Thursday morning in Manila said the missing shabu which had found its way into the market, was not only1,000 kilos or 6.8 billion pesos as earlier estimated but 1,600 kilos worth 11 billion pesos.
Lapeña, Duterte’s first PDEA chief until he took over the Bureau of Customs in late August last year, finally acknowledged on Wednesday that the magnetic lifters did carry contraband and on Thursday noon told the Malacanang Press Corps that he was not resigning because “the President placed me there to accomplish a job, a mission and that is to stop corruption and increase revenue collection” and that he has been “delivering and I still have to do a lot para ma-accomplish iyong mission na iyan.”
Hours later, at the 117th Anniversary celebration of the Philippine Coast Guard at at the Port Area in Manila, Duterte announced: “General Lapeña will move to TESDA. I will promote you to a Cabinet member position.”
“General Jagger Guerrero you are to move to the Bureau of Customs,” he said, as he searched the audience for Guerrero whose surprised look was captured by television cameras.
“I know that you are happy there and you are contented, so I’ve heard, but the demands of public service and the need for honest men requires your presence there. Good luck,” Duterte told Guerrero.
On dealing with corrupt personnel, Duterte addressed Guerrero: “Madali lang ‘yan, patayin mo ‘yang mga p****** i**** ‘yan, l****.Kung hindi mo madala sa istorya then ihulog mo diyan sa…” (That’s easy, just kill the S.O.Bs, If you can’t talk to them, throw them to…”). The audience laughed.
Duterte conceded he cannot totally stop corruption. “We cannot stop it actually. But we can reduce it to the barest minimum,” he said.
“Do it and do it fast”
Addressing Lapeña, Duterte said his work at TESDA is “could be messy at times” but added he was “sure your training as a military man just like Jagger (Guerrero) would augur well for the country.”
It is not clear what he meant by “messy.” TESDA stands for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. The post of Director-General was vacated when Gene Mamondiong last week filed his certificate of candidacy for Governor of Lanao del Sur.
Duterte repeated previous statements that he has nothing against the bureaucracy but “if you want something done and done fast per your order, you get a military man.”
Lapeña spent 12.6 years out of his 33.7 years in the police service in Davao City. He was the city police chief from 1996-1998, Duterte’s third term, and Regional Director of the Philippine National Police from 2002-2004, when Duterte returned as mayor after a three-year stint at the House of Representatives.
“If there are some misgivings about any orders coming from me, rest assured that I’m a lawyer, that I do not give illegal orders. You can be very sure that when I say ‘do it and do it fast’ do it because that is what is utterly lacking in this country,” Duterte said at the Coast Guard celebration.
“Unfortunately the six years term (as President) is not just really enough. You have to move fast,” he said.
He cited as example the aftermath of the Marawi Siege. “I needed houses immediately and we had a corresponding funding. But had I left it to the bureaucracy, it’s either it’s not being done until now or without being offensive to anyone sometimes the fundings are lost along the way.”
Duterte also ordered the “freezing of all, all section department units” of the Bureau of Customs.
“Out lahat, to the last man, out. The commissioners are out, the department heads, out,” he said and ordered Guerrero to go to Malacanang Friday for the turnover rites.
“My orders to you Jagger is (sic) ilagay mo ‘yan sila sa opisina sa lahat. They are on floating status whoever. The outer periphery nandiyan will be taken care of by the Coast Guard and maybe you can have — and even — you can utilize military men. The excess diyan sa walang trabaho lalo na ‘yang mga babae,” he said.
“You can suspend two or three days for them to learn. Hindi naman mahirap ‘yang pag — ‘yang X-ray, X-ray na ‘yan. If you are corrupt, then no amount of X-rays that — that’s there filled with shabu, you can never see it. But kung hindi ka corrupt, makikita mo talaga kung anong… What’s the Tagalog of hulagway?”
“Hulagway” in Cebuano means picture or image.
“And if you think that there’s really a something a way which they can do it, baklasin mo lahat. And do not mind if there’s a delay of one year in the cargoes,” Duterte said.
“I’ll leave it up to you. Trabaho mo ‘yan eh” (That’s your job), he added.
Before he took over as AFP Chief of Staff on October 26, 2017, Guerrero was chief of the Davao City-based Eastern Mindanao Command since November 21, 2015. He was set to retire from the AFP in December 2017 but his term was extended until April 2018.
Duterte was Davao City mayor from 1988 to 1998; 2001 to 2010; and 2013 to 2016. He was Davao City’s 1st district representative from 1998 to 2001 and vice mayor from 2010 to 2013.
Guerrero served as commander of the Davao City-based Task Force Davao in 2010 and was commander of the 701stBrigade based in Davao Oriental in 2012.
Lapeñahad, until Wednesday’s House Committee hearing, maintained that the magnetic lifters contained no contraband as the X-ray report showed nothing suspicious and a swab testing on the emptied lifters yielded negative of shabu.
Even Duterte had declared in mid-August that reports that the four magnetic lifters contained shabu were mere “speculations.”
PDEA’s Aquino insisted the shipment contained shabu.
Lawyer Ma. Lourdes Villamar-Mangaoang, who served as National Head of the Bureau of Customs’ X-Ray Inspection Project from December 2007 to January 2013, last week said “dogs don’t lie, X-rays don’t lie, only people can lie.”
Like Aquino, Mangaoang said she felt vindicated by Lapeña’s statement that the lifters did contain contraband.
Lapeña told Malacanang reporters on Thursday morning that what convinced him was the DPWH presentation that the magnetic lifters “were not designed to lift scrap metal, but it was designed to conceal cargo. When you say conceal, then it must be contraband.”
Mangaong, who has been working at the Customs since 1987 said Lapeña’s term is “the worst” because “it is only now that tons of shabu are smuggled clearly in connivance with Customs insiders and being covered up by no less than the highest official.”
In his press conference on Tuesday, Lapeñasaid he will “never destroy my name protecting these drug syndicates.”
“Let me reiterate that I am a man of honor, and I will do everything, even offer my life, to fulfill the marching order of the President: to stop corruption and to increase revenue collection. Attendant to this mission is to destroy the drug syndicate that pervades not only in the Bureau, but the entire bureaucracy. Tama na ang papogi sa media, let us buckle down to work),” he said.
Two days later, Duterte moved him out of the Bureau of Customs.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)