THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed graft charges against current and former officials of the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in connection with the entry and auction in 2019 of P1 billion worth of 146 kilos of shabu that was concealed in an abandoned shipment of supposed tapioca starch.
Slapped with violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Employees, serious dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service were Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero, former PDEA director Aaron Aquino, and Customs Deputy Commissioner Raniel Ramero.
PDEA Director Wilkins Villanueva, along with agents Joel Plaza, Aldrin Albarino, Jigger Montallana, Melvin Estoque, Jan Mark Malibiran, Judith Rigo, Dorcas Repolles, Noilan Avila, Mark Espiritu, Marc Anthony Marero, Cesar Bilowan, Alejandro Noble, Koden Dario, and Kathryn Joy Diono were charged for violation of the anti-graft law, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
On the other hand, PDEA operatives Daniel Martinez, Lester Martobago and Mark Erick Espiritu were accused of violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Graft charges were also slapped against Customs officials Vicent Puti, Ivy Joy Nitura and Rory Dela Torre for violation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said he would create a panel of prosecutors that would conduct a preliminary investigation and determine if evidence submitted by the NBI are enough to warrant the filing of the necessary cases against the accused.
In a statement, the PDEA said it is “ready to answer every allegation. PDEA officials and agents who were implicated in the investigation are ready to clear their names in the proper forum.”
“The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reserves its right to pursue available remedies relative to the recommendation of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to file graft and corruption charges against its former and incumbent officials, and anti-narcotics agents in connection with the smuggled P1 billion worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, concealed in an abandoned tapioca starch shipment in 2019,” it added.
The agency cleared Villanueva from the incident, noting that it happened during the incumbency of Aquino.
“Director General Wilkins M Villanueva, who took over the helm of the agency’s leadership on May 22, 2020, had nothing to do with the controlled delivery operation in contention since he was still the Regional Director of the PDEA Regional Office X Northern Mindanao at that time,” it said.
The NBI probe stemmed from the privilege speech of Sen. Panfilo Lacson in 2019 when he questioned the joint decision of the PDEA and the BOC to auction off the tapioca starch shipment from Cambodia supposedly to entrap the real owner of the goods.
The tapioca starch shipment was supposedly found abandoned by PDEA and BOC operatives on March 5, 2019. To lure the true owner of the shipment to come out, the two agencies auctioned it off. Goldwin Commercial Warehouse won the bid.
The cargo was seized from Goldwin’s Malabon City warehouse on May 22, 2019 after the winning bidder discovered and reported the illegal drugs which were found in 114 bags stashed inside several aluminum pallets under sacks of tapioca.
Lacson, in his speech, had alleged that PDEA, which tested samples from the shipment prior the auction, knew that the shipment contained illegal drugs but did not inform the BOC.
The NBI, in its charge sheet, cited documents showing that the tapioca shipment was examined by PDEA and BOC agents prior to the auction and cleared it of illegal drugs.
It added that contrary to the claim of the PDEA and the BOC, the auction for “controlled delivery” was a fabrication.
NBI probers said Aquino, Guerrero, Ramiro and the other drug operatives should be charged for supposedly failing to detect the shabu cargo.