Duterte defends Lapena; says he and Faeldon were “nalusutan”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 October) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday defended former Customs Commissioners Isidro Lapena and Nicanor Faeldon against charges of corruption, claiming they are not corrupt but were victims of corrupt insiders.

“Hindi sabihin na mga corrupt ‘yan. Hindi corrupt ‘yan. Hindi ko kunin ‘yan kung corrupt. Sigurado ako. Nalusutan lang talaga kasi hindi nila kaya — kasi insider eh (Don’t say they are corrupt. They are not corrupt. I would not get them if they were corrupt. I am sure. They were had by corrupt insiders), Duterte said in his speech at the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City on Saturday.

“Mind you, ito si Sid Lapeña sa Customs including Faeldon who was his predecessor, puro military ‘to, nalusutan talaga sila” (they’re all from the military but they were had).

Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena at the press conference he called for on October 23, 2018. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Customs

The President’s statement came even as his own anti-corruption office, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), had vowed that despite Lapena’s relief, it would continue its parallel probe on the 1,600 kilos of shabu worth 11 billion pesos contained in four magnetic lifters that slipped through the Bureau of Customs in July and have since been flooding the streets nationwide.

Aaron Aquino, Director-General of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency on Thursday morning told a press conference that the magnetic lifters contained not just 1,000 kilos worth 6.8 billion pesos of shabu but 1,600 kilos worth 11 billion pesos.

In a statement, PACC spokesperson Manuelito Luna said his office had in fact issued a subpoena duces tecum to Lapena who was relieved of his post on Thursday during the 117th Philippine Coast Guard anniversary celebration at the Port Area in Manila.

Duterte announced there that he was moving Lapena to another office and that the new Customs Commissioner would be Rey Leonardo Guerrero, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff whom he assigned to head the Maritime Industry Authority.

Duterte removed Lapena out of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) but promoted him to a Cabinet post, as Secretary of the Technical Education and Skills Develpment Authority (TESDA).

Daughter’s defense

Lapena’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth, in her Facebook post, wrote that while she rarely posts about her dad, she wanted to air her sentiments “so that the Filipino people whom he fondly serves may know a little more about him before they throw their judgements.”

“I am truly heartbroken. My dad served this country as a uniformed personnel for 34 years having little time to almost none for us and after nine years of retirement he wholeheartedly served again. First in PDEA and then in BOC. He was battling different syndicates from drug syndicates to smugglers, etc.” Lapena’s daughter said in her post at 1:22 a.m. on October 26, hours after her father was relieved as Customs Commissioner.

She noted that a fund had apparently been set up “to discredit him, leading to his removal from the BOC,” a move she took to mean “that he was already affecting their trade.”

Ms Lapena said her father left for the United States on October 16 to attend the 91st birthday celebration of his mother but in two days, “this person,” apparently referring to Customs official Lourdes Mangaoang, “made a media blowout when he was not here to be able to defend himself against these nonsense accusations.”

“They made a spectacle about this when he was gone. To the point that almost everyone was only able to hear her side of story, repeatedly, that everyone was made to believe this was the truth,” she said, adding, without naming Manganoang, that she “never disclosed during her interviews that she was reshuffled, not getting the position she wanted, thus the rage.”

She said people believed the accuser “because she delivers her stories with rage and she indeed is a lawyer being able to use this logical fallacy ‘appeal to emotion’ where she was able to manipulate the recipient’s emotion to be able to win an argument and Filipinos are very emotional. They let their emotions overrule their judgment, hence, my dad in their view is the ‘bad cop.'”

“Dogs don’t lie, X-rays don’t lie, only people can lie”

Mangaoang’s statements, particularly the oft quoted “dogs don’t lie, X-rays don’t lie, only people can lie,” generated wider public interest on the huge shabu shipment, more than twice the 604 kilos of shabu worth P6.4 billion that slipped through Customs, then still under Faeldon, in May last year.

Mangaoang said that during Faeldon’s time, the contraband slipped through Customs but was later seized but the shabu shipment slipped through Customs under the Lapena administration and have since been distributed nationwide.

“Can you imagine 1.6 million sachets of one-gram shabu flooding the streets? ” Mangaoang, a Dabawenya who has been with the Bureau of Customs since 1987,  told MindaNews.

Mangaoang claims she is not motivated by rage at Lapena’s reassigning her to at least five posts in one year — although she questioned that before the Civil Service Commission — but by the desire to let the truth out.

Lapena in his statement at the press conference he called for on October 23, had declared that “there is no doubt, that these attacks against me and the officers, men and women of the Bureau of Customs is a well-funded and coordinated attack to undermine the reforms I started.”

“This issue against us is being manipulated by the drug syndicates in order that it will be diverted away from them. Isn’t it that we should be focused on pinning them down?” Lapena asked.

He said Mangaoang may have “wittingly or unwittingly” been used by the syndicates, an allegation Mangaoang disputed.

“Hindi naman ako tanga” (I am not stupid), said Mangaoang, who finished Philosophy and law at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)