By Jomar Canlas/Manila Times
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed criminal charges against former Customs commissioner Isidro Lapena over alleged anomalies in the release of 105 containers of ceramic tiles, worth at least P69mn from China in March 2018.
NBI Legal Service Division Chief Joselito Amon and Assistant Director Leo Edwin Leuterio recommended the filing of graft and administrative charges against the former police official before the Department of Justice (DoJ). A 35-page report recommended that Lapena be “charged and prosecuted for violation of Sec 3, Par (e) of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” and “administratively charged with gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.”
Administrative and graft charges are within the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman, but such may be filed with the DoJ for case buildup and may be referred later on to the Ombudsman.
Customs whistleblower Lourdes Mangaoang earlier exposed the possible entry of shabu into the country through the containers.
The withdrawal from the Port of Manila of the 105 containers from China without the proper release clearances and documents was discovered on March 19. The shipment was the subject of customs alerts.
The NBI also asked the DoJ to review the arrangement between the government and port operator Asian Terminals Inc (ATI).
“It is also respectfully recommended that Office of the Solicitor General, which is the office tasked to review contracts under investigation by the NBI, review the Contract for Cargo Handling and Related Services entered into by and between the Philippine Ports Authority and Asian Terminals Inc,” the NBI report said. The NBI said it wanted to unearth smuggling and other illegal activities inside the Bureau of Customs (BoC), which could have allowed the entry of illegal drugs into the Philippines.
“It is clear that even if the ATI personnel are engaged in smuggling and illegal activities, the PPA could not, motu proprio (on its own), institute a case for violation of Tariff and Customs laws.Instead, it will allow the contractor to take action over the case,” it said.
Under their existing agreement, the PPA cannot take any action against ATI in the event that its personnel fail to exercise due diligence in the performance of their duties, “as the enumeration provided in the contract is exclusive, and the failure to exercise due diligence is not one of them,” the NBI pointed out.
The investigating bureau pointed to the supposed lapses on the part of Lapena when he bypassed the bureau’s computerised processing system known as E2M. “Lapena also deliberately violated the memorandum that he himself approved when he issued the memorandum where he interposed no objection to the release of the shipments to the consignee in the Port of Cebu, despite being the subject of the continuing alert and the absence of any documents to support or be the basis for its release.
Further, Lapena did not cause any alert order when the E2M became operational,” the document reads.
“It is worth noting that flagrant disregard of the rules is considered a gross misconduct where the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of an established rule must be manifest,” the NBI said adding that “to additionally affix his signature despite the lack of supporting documents only shows a gross and inexcusable disregard of the consequences of his act as approving authority.”
Moreover, the NBI stated that “the acts of Lapena and those under him (whose identities were still unknown), constitute Gross Negligence and Grave Misconduct that would warrant their dismissal from service.”
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