MANILA – Former Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña hit the National Bureau of Investigation for suing him for graft in relation to the 105 container vans of ceramic tiles that vanished from the Bureau of Customs earlier this year.
The unlawful release of 105 container vans would not have been discovered if it were not for the 22 alert orders he issued against the shipments that actually involved 119 container vans, said Lapeña, director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
“It is unfortunate that the NBI concluded its investigation on the case of the 105 illegally released containers from the Port of Manila without getting any statements from me,” Lapeña said in a statement.
“What is more unfortunate is that the NBI did not unmask the real people behind the illegal scheme,” he emphasized.
On Monday the NBI recommended that Lapeña and one unidentified individual be charged with violation of Section 3, paragraph (e) of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The bureau also recommended that Lapeña be charged with gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.
But Lapeña insisted that the modus operandi would not have been discovered if not for his alert orders, and this scheme is probably a long time practice at the bureau.
“This modus would have continued unnoticed. I know that this illegal scheme is possibly happening even long before I was placed in the Bureau of Customs. Under my watch, this modus was uncovered,” he said.
Bureau officials supposedly found out in March that 105 containers vans of ceramic tiles from China and other imported products vanished at the Customs despite an “alert order” against releasing the shipments.
The NBI’s complaint stemmed from the container vans that were released despite an alert order and without undergoing an examination.
Then Port of Manila district collector Vener Baquiran reported to Lapeña the “unauthorized release” of the shipment and recommended that the shipments of AbundanceGain Indent Trading Corp. and other companies be subjected to a “continuing alert.”
Lapeña supposedly approved the recommendation.
But the NBI noted that Lapeña “deliberately violated” what he himself approved when he “interposed no objection” to the release of the shipments to a consignee in the Port of Cebu despite the continuing alert and the absence of any document to support and form the basis for approving the release.
He violated established rules when his office issued a Manual Alert Order even though the Electronics-to-Mobile, or E2M, Customs system was “fully accessible” at the time, the NBI said.
Lapeña argued it was under his watch that the 105 containers were found to have been illegally released.
“In fact, I have filed criminal cases against 53 involved personalities and I referred to PACC (Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission) the case of the Port of Manila district collector at the time for failure to observe relevant procedures that led to the unauthorized release of said shipments,” he said.
“It is unclear to me why would the NBI find negligence on my part when I was the one who alerted the containers,” said Lapeña.
Existing Customs procedures place the responsibility of releasing container vans from a certain port upon the officers of that port, the former commissioner noted.
“I was hoping that their investigation would lead to finding out the truth and the people who connived to release the 105 containers from the terminal,” he said.
“I leave the development of this case to the Department of Justice. I maintain that I did the right thing that was supposed to be done at that time,” he added.
The Duterte administration will not intervene in the case, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Tuesday.
But Panelo pointed out that the filing of charges against Lapeña shows how serious the administration is in the campaign against corruption.
“No one, friends or political foes alike, is spared in our fight against corruption,” Panelo said. “The NBI has a mandate to fulfill and its action is proof that the President shall not shield those upon whom a shadow of doubt has been cast.”
Good governance is a “hallmark” of the Duterte administration, the Palace official said. “This latest development is a reaffirmation of the President’s commitment against all forms of corruption and illegality.”
Still, Panelo pointed out, Lapeña has the constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Until and unless proven otherwise, he (Panelo) still enjoys the trust and confidence of the appointing authority, who happens to be the President,” said the spokesman.
President Rodrigo Duterte removed Lapeña from the Customs and moved him to the TESDA amid the shabu shipment controversy the bureau is facing. (With GMA News/PN)