MANILA (UPDATE) - Former Bureau of Customs intelligence agent Jaime Guban has been admitted to the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Witness Protection Program (WPP), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed Tuesday.
Guban, considered a "vital witness" in the investigation, was turned over to the DOJ after appearing at a Senate hearing on the smuggling of a multibillion-peso shabu shipment through the port of Manila in August, Senator Richard Gordon said.
The former Customs officer, who President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered arrested for his alleged illegal activities, was tagged in the release of the contraband, an incident that exposed anew deeply entrenched corruption at the BOC.
Two shipments of magnetic lifters were busted in August. First, a shipment containing P4.3 million worth of shabu was found at the Manila port. A second shipment of similar but empty lifters were found days later at a warehouse in Cavite, which anti-drug agents believe contained some P11-million worth of shabu,
During the hearing, Guban read his sworn affidavit where he said he wanted the apprehension of the first shabu shipment after Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto told him about it.
“Upon hearing this, I immediately responded that it was not possible to do and I declared to Col. Asierto that we from the Bureau of Customs would cause the apprehension of these drugs. This is my duty as [a] government employee and as [a] customs intelligence officer,” Guban said.
With Guban now under DOJ custody, Gordon made the assurance that the former customs officer would not be arrested without an arrest warrant.
Duterte earlier ordered Guban's arrest for his alleged illegal activities, but Malacañang later clarified that he would not be taken into custody without a warrant.
Gordon had recommended placing Guban under the state's witness protection program after his panel ruled that the former Customs officer was no longer held in contempt and was under the Senate's protective custody "for his safety."
"The threats are there because hangga't hindi pa dumarating sa husgado 'yan, 'pag wala si Guban, walang kaso. You only have circumstantial evidence," Gordon had said last week.
(The threats are there because until the case has not reached the courts, if Guban is not there, there is no case. You only have circumstantial evidence.)
The Senate had in September cited Guban in contempt and detained him for giving conflicting statements during its investigation on the billions worth of shabu that allegedly slipped past the Bureau of Customs.
MANGAOANG ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR WPP COVERAGE
The senator also said customs deputy collector Lourdes Mangaoang, who had accused BOC officials of being complicit to drug smuggling, is also being requested for inclusion in the WPP.
Meanwhile, Gordon said Acierto and dismissed Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency deputy director General Ismael Fajardo would still need to provide the missing link in the alleged second shabu shipment.
The two officials are linked to the second shipment of magnetic lifters found empty in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. They are believed to also have contained illegal drugs.
“Ang theory ko diyan, pinalabas ang malaki tapos nagpahuli ng maliit, but they wanted to get it out,” Gordon said.
(My theory there is they let the big one through then arranged for the bust of the smaller shipment, but they wanted to get it out.)
Former BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, who was reassigned to head the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority amid the drug smuggling controversy, did not attend the hearing because of supposed change of command ceremonies at the BOC.
Gordon, meanwhile, reiterated that drug smuggling activities of certain officials justify the President's decision to deploy military officers at the BOC.
“Ang tingin ko dun nage-escort sila, certainly malinaw na talagang malalim ang smuggling operations and we are under siege,” Gordon said.
(I think they escort [contraband], certainly it's clear that smuggling operations are deep and we are under siege.)
Gordon's committee is expected to hold another hearing on November 22. - reports from Adrian Ayalin and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News