NAIA ‘escort’ ring has netted P10 B
With an estimated P10 billion worth of jewelry smuggled through the years by a well-entrenched syndicate at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), President Duterte has approved the filing of charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against top Customs and airport personnel involved in smuggling operations.
According to Greco Belgica, commissioner of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), a background check on Customs operation officer Lumontod Macabando showed that he has been frequently traveling abroad, particularly to Dubai, to facilitate a jewelry business. But Macabando has been used as a front to smuggle jewelry, which were either undeclared or misdeclared before the Bureau of Customs (BOC), Belgica said. “Mga P10 billion na po ang estimate namin, dahil itong nahuli namin has been
traveling for 133 times from 2014,” Belgica said at a press briefing in Malacañang.
He estimated that Macabando and his cohorts smuggle in jewelry twice a week.
The PACC has recommended the filing of administrative complaint and summary hearing for his dismissal from service with perpetual disqualification against Macabando.
Belgica said the PACC has referred to the BOC the filing of administrative cases, complaint summary hearing and for dismissal and perpetual disqualification for public office against Macabando; lawyers Ambrosi Basman and Rohani Basman; Anisa Lumogtod, Amelquir Macabando, said to be an ex-mayor of Marawi City; prosecutor Samina Sambaco Macabando Usman.
Basman was asked to show cause why charges should not be pursued against him.
Belgica also named OIC Pasay Prosecutor Benjamin Lanto, an allegedly relative of Macabando; inquest prosecutor Clemente Villanueva, assistant city prosecutor Florencio Dela Cruz as among those to be investigated.
Elizabeth Pableo, said to be officer-in-charge at the arrival operations division, will also be investigated regarding her involvement with the smuggling syndicate, Belgica said.
Pableo was placed under preventive suspension along with Marlon Agaceta, chief of legal division of the BOC at the NAIA.
As part of their modus operandi, the courier is provided “escorting” services upon arrival at the airport, facilitated by officials from the BOC, Manila International Airport Authority, Philippine National Police and other government agencies.
Passengers escorted upon arrival are given special treatment, where their hand-carry or check-in luggage are usually exempted from inspection.
The suspects were implicated during the case buildup conducted by the PACC on the links of justice assistant secretary Moslemem Macarambon Sr. to the jewelry smuggling ring.
The PACC has recommended to President Duterte the filing of cases related to graft as well as perpetual disqualification from office before the Office of the Ombudsman.
In a press briefing last Thursday, Duterte recognized that Macarambon has tendered his resignation.
Duterte also approved the preventive suspension against NAIA district collector Ramon Anquilan pending investigation.
The BOC was directed to lead the fact-finding probe regarding the involvement of NAIA CIIS director Adsar Albani and CIIS head Butch Ledesma.
Belgica yesterday said they are looking into the possibility that the alleged jewelry smugglers are financing terrorists and insurgent groups.
There are eight syndicates that operate under a sundo scheme, he said.
Belgica issued the statement amid the issue involving the “Mimbalawang couple” apprehended at NAIA Terminal 3 in December for allegedly smuggling P15 million worth of gold jewelry.
He said aside from the syndicate that assisted the couple, there were seven other syndicates operating separately under the sundo scheme.
Belgica said they received information that the couple, reportedly from Marawi City, were allegedly raising money to finance the activities of terrorist groups.
The information has yet to be confirmed.
“The fund-raising activity was for illegal activities. They are part of a group that raises funds for certain groups. They could be terrorists, they could be insurgents,” Belgica said.
The PACC learned that since 2014, the couple traveled 133 times to and from Dubai and Bangkok, Thailand.
Authorities estimated that if the couple brought in an average of P10 million worth of jewelry per trip, they could have raised a total of P1.3 billion for terrorists.
They received reports that aside from smuggling jewelry into the country, the eight syndicates were also reportedly involved in illegal drugs.
In December 2017, the Mimbalawangs reportedly did not declare the P15-million jewelry and failed to pay P6.9 million in customs duties and taxes.
Resigned justice assistant secretary Macarambon reportedly intervened and talked to Customs collector Anquilan.
The duties and taxes were then recomputed and reduced to P1.3 million.
Macarambon denied the allegations, saying the Mimbalawangs were relatives of his daughter-in-law who was held by the BOC.
Belgica said the couple could have long been engaged in illegal activities but this was the first time they were apprehended.
On May 5, the couple and Macabando were apprehended for allegedly smuggling 1.9 kilos of assorted pieces of gold jewelry with an estimated value of P6 million.
Video footage reportedly showed an unidentified man passing a black clutch bag to Macabando, who was walking near a conveyor area at the airport.
Belgica said this might have been intended to avoid the payment of proper duties and taxes.
PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna said these acts could be deemed as economic sabotage, as the suspects are depriving the government of correct duties and taxes.
It was later found that Macabando, recently promoted to supervisor, was using a legitimate Customs employee and an expired access pass issued by the Manila International Airport Authority.
His identification card was valid only from January to March this year.
The following day, a Pasay City prosecutor released the couple and Macabando for further investigation.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña vowed to investigate the activities of officials named by President Duterte as being involved in smuggling activities at the NAIA.
Guevarra said the Department of Justice (DOJ) would probe four members of the National Prosecutor Service (NPS) named by the President.
“The complaint will most likely be filed with the ombudsman, but it doesn’t prevent the DOJ from conducting its own investigation through its Internal Affairs Unit,” Guevarra said.
He said the ombudsman would focus on the criminal aspect of the case, the DOJ on the administrative.
The four prosecutors identified by Duterte were Samina Sampaco Macabando-Usman, Pasay City Prosecutor Benjamin Lanto, Inquest Prosecutor Clemente Villanueva and Assistant Prosecutor Florenzo dela Cruz.
“With or without any instruction from the President, I will commence our own internal investigation within the DOJ,” Guevarra said.
Lapeña said he ordered an investigation against all personalities mentioned by the President.
Six Customs officials and officers were dragged into the controversy.
Public Works and Highways assistant secretary Tigagun Umpa yesterday blamed corrupt politician-contractors for his ouster.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said that Umpa was reportedly found asking for percentages from contractors operating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Umpa has only been a DPWH assistant secretary for ARMM operations and special Mindanao projects for around five months. He was appointed by President Duterte in January.
In a series of posts on his Facebook account, Umpa said he wants to clear his name and asked that politicians, who are also contractors, be investigated for corruption.
“I’m calling the attention of Malacañang to investigate all DPWH officials and all congressmen who are contractors,” he said.
“I want to expose corrupt congressmen and corrupt DPWH officials… Demolition job kayo!! I need justice!” he added.
Umpa accused Malacañang officials of being deceived by the old-timer “trapos” or traditional politicians who wanted to oust him.
He expressed belief that he was asked to resign because he rejected their offers to negotiate.
Handout photo shows P3 million worth of smuggled gold jewelry seized from a couple and an airport Customs officer at the NAIA 3 last May 5.