GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 June) — Police operatives have recovered four undocumented vehicles and several other accessories that were allegedly smuggled through the Makar Port here.
Senior Supt. Manuel Cornel, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 12 director, said Thursday they found the smuggled vehicles stacked inside a 40-footer container van that was earlier stopped by their operatives in a checkpoint in Barangay Labangal.
Armed with a search warrant issued by a local court, he said they forcibly opened the container van on Wednesday and discovered a Ford Expedition sports utility vehicle and three Suzuki Swift cars concealed by some used tires and car accessories.
“We’re still determining the value of these vehicles and where they originated but it’s clear that they were smuggled through the port,” Cornel told reporters.
The official said they initially held the container van after it came out of the Makar Port compound last June 20 due to a tip that it contained undocumented vehicles.
During initial verification, Cornel said the container carrier’s driver failed to present the cargo’s shipping documents.
He said such violation firmed up their suspicions that there could be some illegal items stashed inside the container van.
To further verify the container van’s contents, he said they a sought the issuance of a search warrant and was eventually granted by Regional Trial Court Branch 35 Judge Oscar Noel.
Cornel said they earlier verified the matter with the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the latter certified that the declared contents of the container van were just 16 pieces of assorted car accessories.
The BoC report listed the declared items as two pieces of used chassis, two pieces of used bonnets, two pieces of bumpers, six pieces of used doors, one set of used slide spoiler and three pieces of used tail lights.
The report, which was the BoC’s official reply to the CIDG-12’s verification, identified the container van’s consignee as the DMA Enterprises.
Cornel said DMA Enterprises initially denied owning or consigning the seized container van and its contents.
“We’ve requested the BoC for a copy of the container van’s shipping document to verify where it came from but we have not received any response until now,” Cornel said.
Outgoing City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, who personally inspected the contents of the container van after it was opened on Wednesday, said the BoC’s personnel here could be held liable for the earlier release of the cargo.
The mayor cited that normally, BoC personnel would immediately request for the retrieval and return to the port of the container van containing the smuggled items.
She said such practice would clear BoC of any liability and may even claim that the agency made the apprehension.
She said that once the container van is returned to the port, no cases could be filed against erring BoC inspectors as the smuggled items would appear to be under the agency’s custody.
“Now they have clear liabilities since the cargo was already released from the port when it was apprehended and found with the smuggled items,” Custodio said.
In an interview over TV Patrol Socsksargen, BoC General Santos port collector Pendatun Alim said the agency is currently conducting its own investigation to shed light on the matter.
“When the container van was released from our custody, it was presumed to be legal. And as far as we are concerned, (matters regarding) its apprehension is already out of our jurisdiction,” he said.
But Alim acknowledged that “whoever was responsible” for the alleged illegal activity could be held liable later on if it turns out in the “parallel investigations” that the container van was released by the BoC despite containing illegal items.
“And that we will find out in the course of our investigation,” he said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)