P6.4-billion ‘shabu’ fiasco
A fiasco — that’s the most charitable way to describe the Duterte administration’s handling so far of the controversial P6.4-billion “shabu” smuggling case at the Bureau of Customs that had implicated a number of high-profile names, among them President Duterte’s son, former Davao vice mayor Paolo Duterte.
On Friday, the Department of Justice confirmed that one of the two cases it had lodged against the suspects in the foiled smuggling attempt has been dismissed with finality by the Valenzuela Regional Trial Court — based not even on evidence, but on what the court described as “forum shopping” on the part of government prosecutors.
How did the government end up dropping the ball?
In November 2017, Valenzuela RTC Branch 171 Judge Nena Santos dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the drug importation case originally filed by the DOJ against nine suspects — among them alleged fixer Mark Ruben Taguba II, Chen Ju Long aka Richard Tan, Richard Chen (whose company brought in the cargo that included the shabu), Cebu-based businessman Kenneth Dong (who facilitated the entry of Chen’s cargo), cargo consignee Eirene Mae Tatad, customs broker Teejay Marcellana and others — because the shipment passage happened in Manila.
The government then refiled the charges in Manila. Later on, the DOJ filed another case against the accused, this time for drug transportation and delivery, again in the Valenzuela RTC.
This seemingly helter-skelter approach to prosecution did not end well.
In May, Valenzuela RTC Branch 284 Judge Arthur Melicor granted the motions filed by Taguba, Chen and Marcellana seeking the dismissal of the charges of drug transportation and delivery filed against them, and admonished the government lawyers thus: “Filing a case for importation in Manila… and then filing another case, this time for transportation, before this court involving the same accused and based on the same facts, issues and arguments, clearly bear the hallmarks of forum shopping, betraying the prosecutors’ intent to secure favorable judgment from different courts.”
The government position was made even more untenable by an egregious typographical error in the prosecution’s material. The lawyers had indicated that the drugs were allegedly imported on May 26; the correct date turned out to be May 16.
What was initially touted as the biggest drug bust in Philippine history has thus become an emblem of a most curious level of neglect, indifference and incompetence on the part of the Duterte administration, whose zeal to prosecute its flagship “war on drugs” appears to be inversely proportional to the interest it has taken in uncovering the truth behind the drug haul.
It’s been over a year since May 26, 2017, when agents of the Bureau of Customs, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency raided warehouses in Valenzuela City after receiving tips from Chinese law enforcement about a suspicious shipment.
What they found was staggering: 605 kilos of high-grade shabu estimated to be worth P6.4 billion.
The shipment was later revealed to have entered the country through the BOC’s “express lane” on May 23, meaning it was not X-rayed.
In the ensuing Senate hearings on the controversy, Taguba testified that he gave P5 million as “enrollment fee” to a so-called “Davao Group,” specifically to Davao City Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera Jr., to have the shipment’s entry facilitated.
Taguba also showed text messages indicating that a certain “Tita Nani” acted as intermediary between him and the Davao Group.
Tita Nani’s real identity has yet to be uncovered; no probe was launched into the Davao Group.
Taguba and his coaccused, meanwhile, are off the hook as far as the Valenzuela court is concerned — essentially because of the prosecutors’ fumbling.
The government’s other case against them — for illegal importation, pending at the Manila RTC — is the only remaining manifestation at this time of whatever effort is still being expended by Malacañang to get to the bottom of this case. If the DOJ loses that case as well, it would be a resounding failure of justice altogether.
More lamentably, with the dismissal of the Valenzuela RTC case, only elderly warehouse caretaker Fidel Anoche Dee is left on trial in that court, for possession of illegal drugs.
Familiar story: In this “war,” it’s the poor and lowly who end up screwed.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.