Gordon seeks hold departure order vs shipper of PhP6.4B shabu from China to Manila

August 1, 2017 - 1:14 AM
Customs broker Mark Taguba
Customs broker Mark Taguba explains the nuts and bolts of customs clearing in the green lane and red lane to senators Vicente Sotto, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon. Photographed by AVITO DALAN, PNA

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Richard Gordon on Monday sought a hold departure order against Taiwanese national Richard Tan, the alleged shipper of the PhP6.4 billion worth of shabu from China to Manila, during the legislative inquiry into how such a huge shipment of shabu managed to sneak past the Bureau of Customs (BOC) last May.

During the hearing, Customs broker Mark Ruben Taguba, the broker who handled the release of container containing the shabu out of the Customs premises, said a certain Richard Chen or Richard Tan may have known the person behind the shipment of the 604 kilograms of shabu from China to Manila through a so-called “consignee-for-hire” scheme using EMT Trading.

Taguba explained that the scheme involves using the name of BOC-accredited consignees, like EMT Trading, by another entity for a fee.

The sole owner of EMT Trading, Eirene Mae Augustino Tatad, acknowledged at the inquiry that she talked to Taguba about using her name in his transactions as a Customs broker. But she also said she had no knowledge that the shipments contained illegal drugs.

Taguba said Tan is the owner of Hongfei Logistics, which shipped the container with the illegal drugs, and which owned the warehouse in Valenzuela City where the shabu were found by BOC officials.

“Siya (referring to Richard Tan) po ang nakakakilala kung sinong nagparating nitong cylinder at siya rin makakaalam kung sino tatanggap dito sa Pilipinas (He would know the source of the shipment and the identity of the consignee),” Taguba said before lawmakers.

On May 26, a composite team led by the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service Director Neil Estrella seized the 604 kilos of shabu they found hidden inside sealed metal cylinders in a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

Estrella told the senators that Chinese Customs, which provided the intelligence about the drug shipment, gave contact details to a point person who would validate the Chinese’ Customs information. This point person turned out to be Richard Chen of Hongfei logistics, who Estrella met before the raid.

Taguba said Richard Chen is really Richard Tan. He also noted that he did not personally know Tan and had only transacted with him through Tan’s middleman named Kenneth Dong.

He related that after the news broke out about the seized drug shipment in May 26, Dong contacted him through the WeChat app, asking for the entry number and the container number of the May 17 shipment.

Taguba also alleged that Dong used these figures to point that the shabu shipment came from the container transported from BOC to the warehouse in Valenzuela City.

The Customs broker insisted that the container van he handled did not include cylinders hidden with shabu. But instead, he suggested a palit-ulo [literally, swap head] scheme was done.

“Your honor, i-clarify ko lang po. Hindi po doon nanggaling ‘yung shabu doon sa sinasabi nilang container van (I would like to clarify the shabu did not come from the container),” he said. “Hindi ko po alam kung saan galing ang cylinder (I don’t know where the cylinders came from).”

He related to the Blue Ribbon Committee that his driver and his helper carried the boxes inside the container by hand into the warehouse instead of using a forklift.

According to Estrella, the cylinders which contained the illegal drug each weighed about 200 kilograms.

“Hindi po kaya ng tao buhatin ‘yun so kung hindi gumamit ng forklift, hindi pwedeng nandoon ang shabu sa container (The cylinders are too heavy to be handled without using a forklift. It’s not possible the shabu came with the container),” Taguba said.

Gordon had also asked for a hold departure against Dong. But according to the committee, the middleman had left the country last July 28 for Chengdu, China.

When asked more about the consignee-for-hire scheme, Taguba requested for an executive session with the senators, which was later granted by Gordon.

Taguba described the scheme as an “open secret” within the BOC, to which Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon admitted he had no knowledge of.

However, the BOC Commissioner said he will take responsibility for any quantity of illegal drug shipped into the country.

“I will take full responsibility for the action and inaction of every employee of the bureau,” he said.

Gordon: BOC either incompetent or corrupt
Also during the hearing, Gordon scolded Customs officials over their failure to detect the illegal drug shipment, as well as their late coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency during the May 26 raid.

“Either incompetent or corrupt. That’s the whole point here,” Gordon said.

He also noted that because of the failed system at the BOC, there is a possibility that more illegal drug shipment have passed through undetected.

“You botched the job, that’s why Customs is in disarray. You are facing malfeasance and nonfeasance. We don’t know how much has slipped through,” he said.

Gordon also subpoenaed the chief of the risk management office Larribert Hilario, who had failed to encode the key information that could have flagged EMT Trading into the red lane at BOC, where it would have gone under physical or x-ray examination, instead of the green lane, where it bypassed inspections.

Earlier in the hearing, Faeldon said they could not locate the whereabouts of Hilario.

Senator Panfilo Lacson at the hearing also questioned the selectivity system of the BOC which allowed the shipment of EMT trading into the green lane bypassing inspection when the consignee’s status as a new importer under sole proprietorship should have landed the shipment in the red lane.

Deputy Commissioner for Management Information System and Technology Group (MISTG) Gerardo Gambala replied that it was the failure of the head of the Custom’s Risk Management Office (RMO) Larribert Hilario to encode the relevant data which would have flagged EMT Trading into the red lane.

Faeldon said he had verbally suspended Hilario from his post last May 30. However, Lacson said he received reports that Hilario was still coming in his office despite the suspension.

Faeldon confirmed Lacson’s statement when he revealed that Hilario on July 10 attempted to cover up his mistake by encoding the data he failed to do prior to the arrival of the illegal drugs.