Lapeña faces graft complaint over release of tile shipment

MANILA, Philippines – Former Customs chief Isidro Lapeña faces a graft complaint after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) found him liable for lapses that led to the illegal release of over 105 containers of tiles March this year.

The NBI filed its complaint before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday, November 12 – even though Lapeña is a public official and the complaint is for graft – a case normally filed at the Office of the Ombudsman.

The container vans containing ceramic tiles were handled by the Asia Terminals Inc (ATI). (READ: At the Bureau of Customs: How Isidro Lapeña was outplayed)

According to the NBI’s investigation report, Lapeña committed graft, gross neglect of duty, and grave misconduct for not following established Customs rules.

The NBI said Lapeña showed “manifest indifference to established rules and procedures, which led to the release of the shipments, escaping the revenues that the Republic of the Philippines is entitled to.”

What happened

The NBI said that Lapeña issued manual alert orders even though the electronic systems were working at the time. Customs rules say manual alert orders are only resorted to when the electronic systems are not operational.

Although the manual alert orders were not lifted, and without the required examination of the shipments, ATI was able to get the shipments released. ATI allegedly showed memoranda that approved the release of the shipments.

The former chief of Formal Entry Division (FED) of the Port of Manila, Antonio Meliton Pascual, denied submitting transmittal memoranda that ATI used as basis for the release of the shipments.

The NBI said the signatures on the memoranda were forged.

After finding this out, the district collector of the Port of Manila, Vener Baquiran, reported to Lapeña the unauthorized release of the shipment, which Lapeña reportedly approved.

Lapeña supposedly approved Baquiran’s recommendation to continue the alerts over the shipments. But despite this, Lapeña also supposedly approved another recommendation of the district collector of the Port of Cebu to process the shipment. 

“Lapeña intentionally did not use the E2M (electronic system), which was fully accessible at the time of the issuance of the manual alert order. Lapeña also deliberately violated the memorandum that he himself approved when he issued the memorandum where he interposes no objection to the release of the shipments to the consignee in the Port of Cebu,” said the NBI.

The NBI added: “As discussed above, the acts of Lapeña and those under him (whose identity were still unknown), constitutes Gross Negligence and Grave Misconduct that would warrant their dismissal in services.”

Lapeña was moved to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), following the scandal of alleged missing shabu shipments worth P11 billion.

Lapeña spent weeks trading blame with then-director Aaron Aquino of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), until his own X-ray chief in Customs, the tough-talking Lourdes Mangaoang came out providing information more damaging to him. Mangaoang said X-rays of the shipment indicated it could have contained something, but was apparently ignored.

But instead of firing him, Duterte transferred Lapeña to TESDA, and appointed to Customs another general, former military chief Rey Guerrero. 

Duterte’s plans of having the military take over Customs have been opposed by various sectors. It is also expressly prohibited by the Constitution. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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