They never learn. In November 2011, Marissa Lapid, 54, wife of Sen. Lito Lapid, was arrested by US authorities when she arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada, carrying $50,000, in violation of US travel regulations. She was subsequently freed on bail, but was re-arrested when she returned to Las Vegas last Jan. 15.
The Lapid case is the latest case involving Filipinos caught violating laws in foreign countries prohibiting aliens from bringing in more than a certain amount of money. Before her, retired police Director Eliseo de la Paz was detained at the Moscow international airport for carrying 105,000 euros (about P6.9 million) in undeclared cash in excess of the allowable limit.
In December 2003, Ian Carl and Juan Paulo Garcia, sons of retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, were detained at the San Francisco International Airport for failing to declare the $100,000 that Juan was carrying. The arrest of the two subsequently led to the filing of plunder charges against General Garcia before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
Different reasons have been given for Ms Lapid’s bringing $50,000 into the United States. A published report in the United States quoted her as saying that she would use the money to buy a house. But in Manila, Senator Lapid said the money was for his wife’s medical expenses—for treatment for a bone ailment similar to that of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s. Now, which is which?
Lapid said the cash belonged to his wife who has the means because she runs several businesses in Porac, Pampanga. But Lapid’s critics, chief of them former Gov. Eddie Panlilio, has sued for plunder Lapid and his son Mark, accusing them of enriching themselves using the quarry funds of Pampanga.
The arrest of General Garcia’s sons in the United States has led to the filing of plunder charges against Garcia, his wife and sons. Although Garcia earned only P36,015 a month as AFP comptroller, he was able to buy several pieces of property abroad and to maintain bank accounts with hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits under his name, that of his wife and their three sons.
All these would not have come to light had not Ms Garcia been detained at the Las Vegas airport for failing to declare the $100,000 she was carrying. Even assuming that the money was not ill-gotten wealth, Ms Garcia having been a frequent visitor to the United States, she was apparently careless in engaging in bulk cash smuggling and making a false statement to a US government agency. It is not understandable, either, why she was able to leave the Philippines with such a big amount of money when its laws limit the amount of cash that may be brought out of the country.
In the case of retired police Director De la Paz, there were also different explanations for the P9.2 million (in peso equivalent) that he was carrying when detained in Moscow. Former PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa said P2.9 million was for travel expenses and P6.9 million was for contingencies. Verzosa said the P6.9 million was for the purchase of spy gear but had been released illegally, but De la Paz said it was a “cash advance.’’ Again, which is which?
It was not only eight high-ranking police officers but also five generals’ wives who were traveling at the taxpayers’ expense and spending millions in taxpayers’ money. The police officers, who are presumed to be intelligent people, should have known better—they should have known that in most countries there is a limit on the amount of money that a visitor can bring in.
Kaya Natin!, a movement for ethical governance, said it was concerned with suspicions “that the money [other than that that was disbursed as travel allowance] must have come from [the illegal numbers game] jueteng.’’ What mitigated the high-ranking police officers’ offense was that they returned the greater part of the money to the government.
We wonder who will be the next to be arrested and detained at a foreign international airport for trying to smuggle in a huge amount of foreign currency. Tighter controls have to be carried out at the Manila international airports to prevent high government officials and their relatives from carrying with them big amounts of foreign currency, only to be detained later at foreign airports. They should learn from the bad experiences of those who preceded them.
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