It’s nice that Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña finally got enlightened, lest the perception could remain that people, particularly those in media, could either be on the payroll of drug syndicates, or of the Bureau of Customs, or perhaps even of both, in the controversy over the supposed smuggling of drugs in magnetic lifters.
Until last Wednesday at a House hearing when Lapeña appeared convinced the magnetic lifters had possibly contained about P6.8-billion in shabu before being seized by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents in a Cavite warehouse, the impression was that those critical of his claim that no drugs were smuggled through the lifters were being used by drug syndicates to vilify him.
Lapeña’s stubbornness in sticking to his earlier claim led to a collision course with PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino and Customs Deputy Collector Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang who both insisted the lifters had contained shabu. Mangaoang even went as far as implying Lapeña was engaged in a deliberate cover-up of the smuggling. But the two were met with a stinging rebuke from the customs chief.
“Remember that these syndicates are not only experts in hiding contrabands, they are also experts in media spinning and propaganda. For all we know, this bickering is already part of their machinations,” Lapeña said. “If you observe what is happening now, these are highly-managed propaganda against the Bureau of Customs and me.”
Saying that those involved in the bickering “may have been misled” by drug syndicates, Lapeña explained: “The whole thing appears to be scripted. A script concocted by the same drug syndicates, a script that perhaps some actors of the syndicate are still following to this day. A staged drama to put the PDEA and BOC on a bitter war, while the enemy regroups.”
While Lapeña’s tirade seemingly focused merely on his critics, what he unleashed created an impression that had grave implications. Foremost among them was the insinuation that media reports which extensively covered the views of Aquino and Mangaoang that were contrary to that of Lapeña were also being used by drug syndicates.
The same impression also applies to those who hit Aquino while defending Lapeña, although it’s no secret that customs officials regularly bestow financial gifts to media personalities engaged in the so-called “AC-DC or attack and collect, defend and collect” operations.
But it’s really a good thing that Lapeña has seen the light and had overcome his stubbornness in maintaining there were no illegal drugs inside the magnetic lifters because they were already empty when found and that a swab test showed they were negative for shabu.
Lapeña’s turnaround came when a Department of Public Works and Highways team examined the lifters and reached a conclusion which supported the theory that they were used as containers. Lapeña’s flip-flop, gallant as it is, is seen as vindication for Aquino who had been insisting the metal cylinders had shabu after a specially trained drug-sniffing dog detected some residue.
Now that Lapeña and Aquino share the same view about the controversial magnetic lifters, there ought to be no stopping an intensified drive to defeat the drug syndicates and eradicate, or at least minimize, drug smuggling.
But how to go about? That would depend largely on the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) which is supposedly the “policy-making and strategy-formulating body in the planning and formulation of policies and programs on drug prevention and control.” As such, DDB is really the overall leader in the drug war, instead of PDEA or PNP as what many thought previously when police seemed to have their own operation plans that were not DDB-approved.
The DDB is a high-powered organization composed of l7 members, nine of whom belong to President Duterte’s Cabinet which include the Secretaries of the Departments of Justice, Health, National Defense, Finance, Labor and Employment, Interior and Local Government, Social Welfare and Development, Foreign Affairs, and Education.
With supposedly brilliant minds in the DDB, many of the inherent flaws and serious mistakes that have plagued the current drug campaign ought to have been avoided if only policies and strategies were made to undergo extensive scrutiny and planning by the DDB.
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