New bribery scheme at BOC bared; Sotto, Drilon linked to ‘illegal request’

WRITTEN REQUEST – Barred from speaking, former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon holds up a handwritten note asking permission for a bathroom break from an exasperated Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon (right). (Jansen Romero)

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson revealed on Monday the existence of a new mode of bribery at the Bureau of Customs (BOC), replacing the regular “tara” (payola) system that prevailed in past Customs administrations.

Lacson called the new bribery scheme as “demurrage,”defined in Webster dictionary as “the payment made to the ship owner by the charterer for exceeding the time allowed for loading and unloading.”

“Pagna delay ang shipment ang pag-release napipilitan sila mag-shell out ng kung anong amount hinihingi sa kanila para ma-facilitate and dokumentong lumakad para ma-release and shipment(When the release of a shipment is delayed, the importer is forced to fork out the amount they are asking to facilitate the flow of documents for their eventual release),” he explained.

Lacson said this is now the common complaint his office has been receiving from importers.

Some10,000 containers arrive daily at the Manila port, Lacson said.

“Umiiyak ang mga importer (Importers are crying),” he added.

Late last year, Lacson, in a privilege speech, alleged that former BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and his favorites received weekly or monthly tara, an allegation denied by Faeldon and company. Faeldon, who is currently detained at the Senate on contempt charges, eventually resigned his post.

Lacson said he has called the attention of current BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña about this new form of bribery “although I know he is busy.”

He said there were times his office sent text messages to Lapeña for him to correct the immoral situation “pero mukhang di pa nako-correct ang common complaint nayan (But it appears that this situation has not been corrected).”

On Monday, Faeldon showed up at the Senate hearing for the first time, but had a heated argument with Sen. Richard Gordon when the former insinuated that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s investigation into the prevailing corruption at the BOC.

During the hearing, Faeldon said Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Franklin Drilon were among the lawmakers who made “illegal requests” with the agency.

Faeldon was responding to Senator Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV’s question during the continuation of the Senate’s probe into the P6.4-billion shabu shipment and corruption in the BOC, when he dropped the names of Drilon and Sotto.

Before disclosing their identity, Faeldon apologized to the senators after noting that they were not present during the hearing.

“I’ll start with Sen. Drilon. As early as 2016, he requested that I meet with him here at the Senate, twice, to sign a Memorandum of Agreement between the BOC and the office of Maria Serena Diokno, the chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP),” Faeldon told the committee, chaired by Gordon.

Faeldon said Drilon wanted him to sign a document agreeing to have the BOC office in Iloilo City renovated for the NHCP. After the renovation, he was told that the building will be converted into a museum and the BOC will occupy the third floor of the building.

“Twice, I attended his meeting and said sir, hindi po puwede. On the third meeting, I have forcibly changed the provision of the MOA and signed it.”

“I never acceded, why because meron na tayong karanasan, sir,” Faeldon told Aquino and Gordon.

Faeldon said he doesn’t want a repeat of what happened during former President Gloria MacapagalArroyo’s time when she ordered the restoration of the so-called Malacañang of the South in Cebu.

“And until today, yung Cebu employees namin, are housed in a condemned building. So ayaw po natin na maulit po yun na tatanggalin na naman yung mga Customs (employees) dyan at bawal na po silang pagpapalitan,”

“Sa tingin ko hindi po tama itong request ng senador. Kaya tinanggihan ko po siya diyan,” he pointed out.

Faeldon said that Sotto “illegally requested” the appointment of a Customs official as director for intelligence as early as 2016.

“Idol kita sir, pasensya na Sen. Sotto. But this is illegal as far as I am concerned. As early as 2016 twice, he asked me to appoint one official in the BOC as director of intelligence. Eto kasi yan, dalawang beses niya akong kinausap, sabi ko titingnan natin,” Faeldon said.

When he interviewed the said official, Faeldon said he was surprised that the person was already serving the BOC for 42 years but have not yet apprehended any crooked employee nor reported anybody involved in anomalous transactions.

But Aquino and Gordon said they found nothing erroneous on the requests made by Sotto and Drilon.

Drilon clarified that the budget for the renovation he requested was of the NHCP and not the BOC’s.

“(The NHCP) was asking for my help, because their budget was going to revert if it was not used. In fact P9 million was reverted out of the P20 million that they had allocated (for the project),” Drilon told reporters.

“There was nothing illegal, the MOA is to allow the NHCP to do the repairs of the building. In fact, the building is not being owned by the BOC, the title is in the name of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Sotto, for his part, denied he was insisting on the appointment of a BOC employee, although he admitted there was a request for someone’s promotion.

He said the BOC employee who sought his recommendation has long been working in the agency. “What’s illegal in a request?” he asked.

Sotto, in an unsolicited advice, told Faeldon to stick to the issue and instead address the supposed corruption in his former agency that led to the swift release of the P6.4-billion shabu from China.

Meanwhile, Faeldon asked the Supreme Court (SC) to order his release from detention.

Faeldon was cited in contempt, ordered arrested and detained for refusing to participate in the Senate investigation on the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China.

But even while in detention, President Duterte appointed Faeldon as deputy administrator for operations of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).

Two weeks ago, he was given a two-week furlough to witness the birth of his child and to be able to take his oath of office as OCD official.

Aside from Gordon, named respondent in his petition was retired Maj. Gen. Jose V. Balajadia Jr., Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Faeldon is expected to be transferred to the Pasay City Jail due to his continued contempt citation.

Gordon said the Senate has agreed to submit Faeldon under the custody of the Pasay City Jail, following the resumption of the probe on alleged corruption at the BOC.

Faeldon may be transferred to the city jail anytime within the day, information reaching Senate reporters said.(With reports from Vanne P. Terrazola and Rey G. Panaligan)

Siblings nabbed with P7.2-M shabu from Malaysia —PDEA

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has arrested two men peddling suspected shabu from Malaysia.

In a 24 Oras report on Saturday, the suspects were identified as siblings Absurasid and Abdul Aziz Jaman Asaali.

The siblings were arrested in a buy-bust operation in Fairview, Quezon City.

Seized from the two suspects were more or less one kilogram of shabu with a street value of P7.2 million.

A PDEA agent said in the 24 Oras report that the shabu seized from the siblings came from Malaysia, smuggled to the country through the Zambasulta area (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) in Mindanao.

The PDEA said the from Zambasulta, the brothers rented a private vehicle and traveled to various various ports until they reached Metro Manila.

The agency said that it is now coordinating with port authorities after the discovery of this new way of smuggling drugs into Metro Manila and other parts of the country. —report from Jamie Santos/ALG, GMA News

Editorial: A not too merry Christmas for Filipinos

For hundreds of Filipinos, Christmas Day and the days before what is usually the happiest day of the year was downright tragic. For tens of thousands of others, it was simply depressing.
The reason for the sad Christmas in our motherland, the Republic of the Philippines, was a series of tragedies that resulted in tremendous loss of life and property.
In the days prior to Dec. 25, a killer typhoon struck the southern part of the country. The number of fatalities is not yet known, but some estimates place the loss of life at more than 200.
In Davao City, meanwhile, a fire at a mall that also houses a call center resulted in at least 37 dead.
Then there was a road accident in Agoo between a passenger jeep and a bus that saw 20 killed as they were on their way to Mass.
The three tragedies were unrelated, but the news spread throughout the archipelago, putting a damper on the holiday season that is 2017.
Typhoon Vinta caused the huge loss of life as it crossed the southern part of the Philippines. Flash floods, strong winds, mudslides and torrential rains were caused by the storm, forcing at least 20,000 to flee to evacuation centers. Tens of thousands more left their homes and stayed with relatives and friends in safer ground.
Since storms are natural occurences, there was little that could be done. Yet it seems that the national and local government units were not sufficiently prepared. It is sad to note that the Philippines is frequently visited by typhoons, yet disaster preparation is still far from perfect for most LGUs.
As for the Davao fire and the Agoo accident, these were both manmade and could therefore have been avoided. One has to wonder why a mall with a call center office in its top floor did not have fire exits. President Duterte visited the site and was seen to weep, considering the tragedy happened in the city that he ruled as a city mayor for the longest time.
It is not only the building owner but also the local executives who granted permits for the call center to operate who must be held legally and morally liable.
Fatal road accidents are not uncommon in the Philippines, where drivers of public utility vehicles are not always concerned with public safety. They are made to drive long hours, and on holidays such as Christmastime, they work extra shifts due to the big demand in public transport.
This week’s deadly accident could have been avoided.
The pall of gloom that descended on the Philippines will pass. Filipinos still managed to celebrate Christmas, and will surely do so when New Year’s Day comes next week.
As a predominantly Christian nation, prayers will be offered and candles lit for all the Filipinos who lost their lives this week and last week. Our thoughts and prayers go to our countrymen, especially the families of those who lost their loved ones this deadly Christmas weekend.

Editorial-The buck stops at your office, Mr. Trump

By now, it should be clear to President Donald Trump that there is a limit to what he can get away with.
As one US president said some decades ago, “The buck stops here.”
Harry S Truman was right. He had to be answerable not only for his own actions as POTUS, but he was also answerable for anything and everything his Cabinet secretaries did in their official capacities.
Indeed, where the suspicious meetings his most senior advisers held with Russians before and after last year’s elections are concerned, it has become increasingly clear that Mr. Trump knew about the private sessions, and gave them his imprimatur.
The admission by former National Security advisor Michael Flynn that he met with the former Russian ambassador to the US before Mr. Trump officially assumed office was an illegal act, since he was still a private citizen at the time. That meeting was held at the behest of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who himself had earlier denied than admitted that he met with the Russians during the campaign period.
It is too much of a stretch to believe that the then president-elect had no knowledge of that meeting. His words and actions before and after that meeting indicate that Mr. Trump was fully aware of what Flynn had done.
Mr. Trump may not say that as chief executive, he is no micro manager and that the small details are best left for his Cabinet to decide. He may, instead, use the same argument that Richard Nixon did in the aftermath of the Watergate break in and subsequent scandal. “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” Mr. Nixon said then, and Mr. Trump appears to believe that wholeheartedly.
One analyst said it best. With the revelations of the last few days, the Trump presidency had entered “a Watergate moment.”
The most serious misstep he can commit now would be to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the way then president Nixon fired then special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Such a move will not delay the inevitable, but may actually speed up the process if impeachment is in Mr. Trump’s cards.
But clearly, some of those tweets he spewed out in the past are beginning  to haunt him. This week, what may end up as the worst of Mr. Trump’s tweets, the one that indicates that he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI regarding the meeting held with the Russian ambassador, has put him in legal trouble. It shows that the president was aware of what his national security adviser had done, which is why he had to tell then FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn.
That is a clear case of obstruction of justice.
The odds of his being impeached or forced to resign as president have just increased tenfold in the last few days. While it still remains to be seen if Mr. Trump can weather this, the worst political storm of his presidency, the odds are not in his favor.


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