NBI files graft, misconduct raps vs Lapeña over 105 missing containers

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DAVAO CITY (November 13)—  The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed criminal and administrative complaints against former Bureau of Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena, over the 105 containers of ceramic tiles that vanished from the Bureau of Customs earlier in the year.

Lapeña was  recently assigned to head the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

In a 34-page complaint filled  before the Department of Justice on Monday, NBI spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin said Lapena and another unidentified person violated Republic Act 3019, also known as the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices.

The charges stemmed from the 105 containers carrying various imported products, including ceramic tiles from China, that went missing from the Bureau of Customs in March. An alert order prevented the release of the vanished items.

Currently, 85 of the missing containers have been found in Meycauayan, Bulacan.

The NBI also recommended that the current TESDA director general be charged with gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.

The complaint stemmed from the supposed release, by Asian Terminal Inc. (ATI), of containers covered by an alert order without undergoing the required examination and without the Customs commissioner lifting the said order.

ATI allegedly released the shipments based on “mere transmittal memoranda” and without supporting documents, particularly a memorandum by the Customs commissioner lifting the alert order.

The NBI investigators found that the signatures of the officers purportedly signed the transmittal paper – Antonio Meliton Pascual and Marylyn Estur – were “forged.”

Then-Port of Manila district collector Vener Baquiran reported the “unauthorized release” to Lapeña and recommended, among others, that the shipments of AbundanceGain Indent Trading Corp. and other firms be subjected to “continuing alert.”

Lapeña supposedly approved the recommendations.

But the NBI said Lapeña allegedly “deliberately violated” what he himself approved when he “interposed no objection” to the release of the said shipments to the consignee in the Port of Cebu, “despite being the subject of the continuing alert and the absence of any documents to support or be the basis for its release.”

Aside from that, the  NBI said Lapeña violated established rules when his office issued a Manual Alert Order (MAO) even though the Electronics-to-Mobile (E2M) Customs system was “fully accessible” at the time.

The NBI report stated, “The manifest indifference of Lapeña to the established rules and procedures has led to the release of the shipments, escaping the revenues that the Republic of the Philippines is entitled to. These, when taken together, signifies the intention of Lapeña to cause injury to the government and took advantage of his office.”

It added, “The fact that he allowed the release of the shipments in the [Port of Cebu], notwithstanding the Memorandum he issued a few days before he issued the Memorandum to the District Collector of Cebu, giving AbundanceGain Indent Trading Corp. unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference over the other consignee.” 

The NBI also recommended a review of the arrangement between the ports and ATI. “It is also respectfully recommended that Office of the Solicitor General, which office is tasked to review contracts under investigation by the NBI, to review the Contract for Cargo Handling and Related Services entered into by and between the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and Asian Terminals, Inc.,” the NBI report added.

Lapeña has earlier said he is ready to face the investigation as he professed innocence on the accusations.-ezc/NewsLine

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