Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director Aaron Aquino was conspicuously absent during last Tuesday’s motu propio probe by the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs into the alleged entry of one ton of shabu (crystal meth) valued at around P7 billion.
It was disclosed that General Aquino had sent a letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, begging off from the important gathering, claiming that he was going out of town due to a previous commitment.
But several committee congressmen, in particular Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop, refused to buy Aquino’s excuse and instead threatened to have him cited in contempt should he refuse to appear at the next scheduled hearing. After all, Acop reasoned this motu propio probe was primarily occasioned by words that “came from his (Aquino’s) mouth.”
Aquino whipped up a storm when he previously told (wittingly or unwittingly) a TV reporter that he believed certain corrupt persons in the Bureau of Customs (BoC) were behind the entry of the aforementioned shabu load cleverly concealed inside four huge industrial magnets used for lifting scrap metals.
“An international drug syndicate will never gamble in bringing in illegal drugs if they don’t have contacts within Customs who will help facilitate the entry,” he reportedly said.
Instead, PDEA deputy director Ruel Lasala, a grizzled 30-year veteran of the National Bureau of Investigation who only came on board last February or some six months ago, was dispatched to “do battle” with a well-rehearsed Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña who brought along an impressive coterie of top officials, advisers and hangers-on.
Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing – who worked for several years as Customs deputy commissioner during Mrs. Arroyo’s time – was among the first to throw dirt at the PDEA, demanding they recant previous statements to the media about the failure of Customs to stop the entry of the huge amount of shabu as this is just “misinformation.”
Suansing’s tirade came on the heels of the startling revelation made by Lapeña during his opening statement that the four empty magnetic lifters, said to contain the shabu, tested negative for drugs in swab analysis conducted by forensic experts from the PNP, BoC and the PDEA itself.
This was topped off by the fact that not a single gram was recovered by authorities from the alleged one-ton shabu shipment.
“Saan nanggaling ‘yan? (where did it come from?),” Suansing asked aloud, referring to the figures seemingly conjured up by PDEA.
Absent this “body of the crime,” it appears the PDEA case does not have a leg to stand on and will not stand a chance in court even if some people are apprehended, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano chimed in.
Lasala, however, tried to parry the negative impression of many committee members by insisting the PDEA had based its observations on “circumstantial evidence” as the magnets found in the GMA, Cavite warehouse on 8 Aug. were strikingly similar to the two lifters abandoned at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) which were forcibly opened by the BoC on 7 Aug. and which sensationally yielded P4.3 billion worth of shabu.
Lasala also kept hammering on the fact that K9 sniffers used both in the Cavite and MICP bodegas exhibited the same reaction by sitting down when they were brought near the heavy iron lifters, indicating a positive response to the presence of drugs, but the poor fellow was drowned out by the cacophony of the mostly pro-Lapeña lawmakers.
Aquino’s absence during the committee hearing was all for the best, I suppose, because he would have only ended up as prime roast beef for the congressmen – what with President Duterte enunciating his unqualified support to Lapeña.
Before an official gathering last week in Malacañang, Duterte wrote finis to the simmering feud between the PDEA and Customs by pooh-poohing as “pure speculation” Aquino’s earlier assertions to the media that P6.8 billion worth of smuggled shabu is now circulating in the streets.
“There was nothing there. They (PDEA) presumed it was filled with shabu and made assumptions. You must be very sure that you have the goods,” the President was quoted in reports as saying.
“Better luck next time,” he added.
As I had said in a previous column, Lapeña is one of a select few who maintain an impeccable relationship with Mr. Duterte, so Aquino should think twice before tangling with him.