NAIA ‘es­cort’ ring has net­ted P10 B

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRISTINA MEN­DEZ

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.

Ter­ror­ist fi­nanciers

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.

Probe

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.

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