By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
MALACAÑANG on Friday stood by outgoing Bureau of Customs (BoC) commissioner Isidro S. Lapeña and maintained that President Rodrigo R. Duterte continues to trust the official even amid the controversy over the P6.8 shipment of illegal drugs that slipped past the agency last August.
“We maintain that drug syndicates, in cahoots with the bureau’s corrupt officials and employees, are behind the ongoing vilification campaign against Mr. Isidro Lapena,” presidential spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement.
“Notwithstanding the nefarious practices which besiege the bureau, Mr. Lapeña managed it untainted and instituted several reforms initiatives resulting (in) a substantial increase in its revenue collection that even surpassed its given targets….PRRD continues to have complete trust and confidence (in) the competence and integrity of incoming TESDA Director-General Lapeña,” he added.
Mr. Panelo also defended Mr. Lapeña’s reassignment to the Technical and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), noting that presidential appointments “fall under the prerogative of the appointing authority, who happens to be the President.”
In a radio interview on Friday, Mr. Panelo also mentioned that the reappointment was hurried to spare Mr. Lapeña from “intrigue” after being villified over the illegal drugs issue. He added that that the marching orders of the President to the newly designated Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero was to “get rid of corruption there. Do something about it.”
Meanwhile, some senators noted the similarity with what transpired during the stint of then Customs commissioner Nicanor E. Faeldon last year and called for accountability over alleged incompetence in the BoC due to the illegal drugs shipment. But others believed that Mr. Lapeña is still trustworthy given that he had improved the collections of the agency during his stint.
“It is the prerogative of the President to select his Cabinet. However, the appointment of Lapeña, similar to Faeldon, seems to reflect the lack of accountability, especially if the banner campaign is against drugs,” Senator Joel J. Villanueva said in a text message to reporters.
“We will not be able to address our drug problem if we will not curtail the supply of drugs. Tons of drugs entered the country under their watch. They should be made accountable, not promoted,” he added.
Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the President’s “recycling” officials anew is an insult to the civil service. “Lapeña’s transfer is a grave insult to the spirit of the civil service and exposes the Duterte government’s campaign against illegal drugs and corruption as a total sham. Despite the thousands killed, billions of pesos worth of shabu has passed through President Duterte’s revolving door policy of recycling the corrupt and the incompetent,” Ms. Baraquel said in a statement.
“When incompetence or corruption go unpunished and those linked to irregularities are rewarded with other top-level posts, then both incompetence and corruption will just get worse. It also places in doubt the sincerity and seriousness of the administration in its campaign against corruption and illegal drugs,” Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said in a statement.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said the President has shown his “zero tolerance in his battle against illegal drugs.” However, he also noted that Mr. Lapeña’s appointment may have been a promotion in rank but a “demotion in trust and confidence.”
“It’s a pity because save for the big shabu shipment that got away, apparently due to collusion between drug syndicates and some low level Customs officials, former Commissioner Lapeña was doing a good job….I hope retired General Guerrero can fill in the big boots left by Lapeña but not suffer the same fate as he did,” he said in a statement.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said the BoC needed a complete overhaul to address the illegal drugs problem hounding the agency.