President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday defended his decision to put the Bureau of Customs (BOC) temporarily under military control, saying there was “no law and order” in the corruption-plagued agency.
Speaking about illegal drugs and the national security situation in Malacañang, the President said he did not order the military to take over the functions of BOC employees and that he did not appoint soldiers to civilian posts, as this is prohibited by the 1987 Constitution.
“When I called in the Army to help the BOC, there was no designation, there was no appointment and there was never instruction for them to take over the functions of the employees,” he said.
The PResident said the only ones he placed on “floating status” were the chiefs of offices and section chiefs.
The employees in those offices and sections would continue working, he said.
The President ordered a temporary military takeover of the BOC last month amid a scandal involving the smuggling into the country of “shabu” (crystal meth) worth P11 billion through Manila International Container Terminal (MICT).
The President reassigned Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, a Cabinet post, and replaced him with Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Lapeña was removed from the BOC after denying for weeks that shabu had been smuggled through MICT.
But results of a reexamination by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) of four magnetic lifters believed to have been used to conceal the shabu proved undeniable, forcing Lapeña to acknowledge the possibility of the drug smuggling.
Last year, shabu worth P6.4 billion also slipped past the BOC at the Port of Manila, setting off a congressional investigation that pressured Lapeña’s predecessor in the agency, former Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, to resign.
In his speech on Tuesday, the President said the smuggling of illegal drugs into the country had been raised to the level of national security threat.
“Every administration, there’s always a shipment of drugs. But these ex-military men, because I trust them, the problem is the shipment slipped past them,” the President said, referring to Faeldon and Lapeña, a former police official.
He said the uncontrolled smuggling of drugs through the ports was a law and order problem.
“That is part of the law and order situation. It has nothing to do with designation or appointment of any person. I’m just trying to control crime,” the President said.
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