New Customs chief will “take action, including further investigations” on ‘Davao Group’

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 30 August) — The new chief of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has vowed to “take action, including further investigations” based on the results of the congressional probes on the PhP 6.4 billion pesos worth of illegal drugs from China that managed to pass through the green lane because of alleged protectors whom customs fixer Mark Taguba referred to as the “Davao Group.”

“Everybody without exemption,”  the new Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, the former chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, told MindaNews  early Tuesday morning, August 29.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have been investigating the alleged corruption and incompetence in the BOC that allowed the entry of  604 kilos of shabu worth P6.4 billion pesos in five metal cylinders. The shipment was later seized from two warehouses in Valenzuela City.

The new chief of the Bureau of Customs, Isidro Lapena during the June 30 “Mindanao Hour” in Davao City on 30 June 2017. RENE B. LUMAWAG / Presidential Photos

The new post is concededly a tough job for the 66-year old Lapeña who spent at least 12.6 years out of his 33.7 years in the police service in Davao City, not only because the President has repeatedly referred to the Bureau of Customs as among the most corrupt agencies in the country and its system “rotten,”  but also because the President’s eldest son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte has been implicated in the “Davao Group” along with Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera, Jr.

MindaNews asked Lapeña last week if he would also conduct an investigation into the alleged “Davao Group.  His reply early Tuesday morning: “the reason why I am now at BOC is because of many issues which are now the subject of investigation by the (House of Representatives) and the Senate.”

“I will take action including further investigations based on the result of investigations conducted by the (House of Representatives) and Senate, and that would include everybody without exemption,” said Lapeña, a member of the Phlippine Military Academy Class of 1973.

“Desperate rumor monger”

Hours after Lapeña sent his reply, Senator Antonio Trillanes alleged in a Senate hearing that Presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio, husband of Mayor Sara Duterte, was part of the “Davao Group,” an allegation Carpio denied.

In a statement, Carpio, a lawyer, said he represents many clients who have transactions with the Bureau of Customs. “It is my job as a lawyer to appear before government agencies for and on behalf of my principals,” he said, adding Trillanes is “imputing malice in saying that my appearance before the BOC is because of smuggling.”

“He is just a desperate rumor monger who happens to be a Senator,”Carpio added.

Vice Mayor Duterte had earlier dismissed Taguba’s allegations as lies while Abellera, who was a no-show at the Senate Committee hearing on August 22  allegedly due to hypertension, was summoned again to the committee hearing on August 29 and was a no-show again, claiming in a letter to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that he was still recovering from “hypertensive urgency uncontrolled.”

But Abellera said he could attend the Senate probe on August 31 or September 4. He also sent an affidavit saying he is “not a member of the ‘Davao Group,’ that he had “no knowledge, let alone any participation, on the shipment of shabu from China.”

He also “vehemently” denied allegations that he is a member of the “Davao Group,” that Taguba gave him P5 million “enrollment fee” and a million pesos a week to the group through a certain “Jack.”


When his name was first mentioned by Taguba during a House Inquiry on August 8 into the P6.4 billion shabu shipment from China, Vice Mayor Duterte issued a statement that Taguba “admitted that his testimony against me was based entirely on rumors. Why would we entertain or believe a hearsay? One does not dignify lies with a response.”

The vice mayor issued no statement after Taguba’s August 22 testimony that he paid a P5-M “enrollment fee” to Abellera in Davao City, after he was informed by a “Tita Nani” that that was the amount required to facilitate a meeting with the Presidential son. Taguba said he did not get to meet Vice Mayor Duterte but handed over the “enrollment fee” to Abellera.

Taguba said he gave Abellera an “enrollment fee” of P5 million in cash when they met in Davao City in January when the BOC issued alert orders for his shipments, and remitted a weekly payment of P10,000 per container every Friday to a certain “Jack” who would fly to Manila to collect the fee.  Taguba read a text from “Tita Nani” that said “Jack” is the “handler of Paolo.”

Abellera in his affidavit said he does not know a “Tita Nani” although he admitted that late last year or early this year, he “casually met” with “Jack” whose surname and other personal circumstances he does not know, in a restobar in Davao City. He said “Jack,” accompanied by Taguba, claimed he was representing “a certain customs broker” and asked if he could arrange a meeting between the broker and Vice Mayor Duterte.

“Knowing that the Vice Mayor does not involve himself with such matters, I politely told Jack that I could not arrange such meeting” and left “after about five to ten minutes,” Abellera said.

Rotten system

On August 21, the night before Taguba identified Abellera through a photograph shown by Trillanes, President Duterte told reporters at the Malago Clubhouse  in Malacanang Park that his template in his war on drugs was Davao, where he served as mayor for 22 years.

Duterte during the campaign vowed to stop illegal drugs in three to six months but in September last year, asked for another six months.

“Noong mayor ako, ang template ko kasi Davao. And I was expecting that this government was really working,” he said.

Duterte added that he did not expect the Bureau of Customs “was also importing drugs. Kaya paano ko matapos ‘yang six months to one year? So how can I finish in six months to a year?). Even if you give me my — the whole term. Hindi ko matapos ‘yan. Pati ‘yung Customs ko na inaasahan ko, nagpapalusot ng droga. O saan pupunta ang Pilipino?  (Even Customs which I had hoped would help me allowed the shipment of drugs. So where will the Filipino go), Duterte asked.

President Rodrigo Duterte is accompanied by Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go and Isidro Lapena , then chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in an ocular inspection of the seized shabu laboratory in Arayat, Pampanga on September 27, 2016. ALFRED FRIAS/PPD

Duterte said the BOC has “a rotten system” and “you need somebody to have a system there, a new one and a competent military man can do it just like General Lapeña.”

“Kaya niya ‘yan,” (he can do it), he said of Lapeña who “enjoys my confidence and trust, which is very important. Otherwise, we go back to the same old problem.”

He also said that if Lapena says there will be a massive reorganization, sa kanya ‘yan. It’s his decision.”

Stop corruption

At the inauguration of the Solar Philippines factory in Sto. Tomas, Batangas on August 23, Duterte reiterated his vow to stop corruption in government “and I am doing it.”

He said he was aware of reports linking his son, Paolo, to corruption, an issued already raised during the election campaign. He said the Vice Mayor eloped at the age of 18 with Lovelie Sangcola whose mother is a Maranaw and his father a Tausug whose family business was into jars and ukay-ukay (used clothes).

“My son eloped with my daughter-in-law when he was only 18… So he was lost to us. Kaya makikita mo ‘yan sa pantalan. Eh kung magtanong lang kayo nasa pantalan, palaging nasa pantalan ‘yan, tumutulong sa in-laws niya. Eh walang hanapbuhay eh. (That’s why you’d see him at the port. If you ask why he is always in the port, that’s because he is helping his in-laws. He didn’t have a job). And he has to earn his keep and he had to work for the family.”

“Pero kung ‘yung mga ‘yung mga jars, ukay- ukay, ‘yung pinapalusot ng in-laws niya (But if the jars and ukay-ukay slipped past Customs), if that is smuggling, then give me an accounting and I will resign. Walang problema ‘yan sa akin” (That’s not a problem with me), he said.

“This is a nationwide broadcast so I might as well tell you. I am not defending my son. Prove it, it is true, and I will resign,” the President said, adding that if anyone in his family is involved in corruption, “bababa ako pagka-Presidente (I will step down as President). No excuses, no apologies. Pero ‘yun totoo lang. Now, all they have to do is to prove kasi ‘yung dating ‘yung — it’s a rehash actually of — during the last elections.”

The marriage of his son Paolo and first wife Lovelie divorced in 2006 under a Shariah Court decision. Both have since remarried — Paolo to January Navares and Lovelie to an RJ Sumera.

At the mass oathtaking of newly-appointed officials in Malacanang on August 29, Duterte opened his speech by saying that Lovely is “not a Duterte” but a Sumera and that he had not seen her in the last ten years.

Duterte was reacting to newspaper reports that his “daughter-in-law” was seen in the BOC.

“I do not have a daughter by the name of Lovelie Duterte. Ang daughter-in-law ko is, si January,” Duterte said.

He reiterated that if any of his children — Mayor Sara, Vice Mayor Paolo and Sebastian — “kung ‘yan ang pumasok doon sa — may hiningi na illegal or graft and corruption, I told you before, I am ready to step down as President.”

152 out of 403 months

Lapena was born in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, retired in 2007 after spending 33.7 years of service, a big part of that in Davao City where he served as city police chief and Regional Director.

Lapena’s service record shows he spent 152 months in Davao City out of 403 months in his police career, most of that while Duterte was mayor.

Duterte was mayor of Davao City for 22 years, from 1988 to 2016, except 1998 to 2001 when he served as congressman of the first district and 2010 to 2013 when he served as vice mayor to Mayor Sara  Duterte.

THEY GO A LONG WAY.  Mayor Rodrigo Duterte checks the assault rifle of Senior Inspector Ronald Dela Rosa (extreme left), chief of the City Mobile Group, after inspecting a crime scene in Barangay Tamugan in 1997 with City Police Chief Isidro Lapena. Dela Rosa has been named chief of the Philippine National Police and Lapena as chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and last week was named as chief of the Bureau of Customs. This was one of 30 photos featured in “Rody Duterte: Through the Years,”  exhibit  last year by RENE B. LUMAWAG, who is  now with the Presidential Photographers Division in Malacanang.

Among other posts he served in Davao, Lapena was City Director of the Davao City Police Office from 1996-1998 (Duterte’s third term) and Regional Director of the Philippine National Police form 2002-2004, when Duterte returned as mayor after stint at the House of Representatives.

Aside from these posts, he served as Deputy Chief PNP for Operations at the PNP National Headquarters and Mindanao Area Police Supervisor.

Lapena holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Manuel L. Quezon University and a PhD in Criminology from the Philippine College of Criminology.

He took several trainings abroad, among them the Major Case Management Course at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Quantico, Virginia, USA; Training of Trainers in Counter Terrorism Crisis Management at the Cranfield University in England; Civil Affairs Course at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, USA; Psychological Operation Officer Course also at Fort Bragg;  Transportation Officer Advance Course at Fort Eustis in Virginia, USA; Royal Malaysian Police-PNP Border Management Course in Sabah, Malaysia; and Community Policing in Tokyo, Japan. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)