Over 600 shipping containers suspected of containing high-value cargo the Port of Manila are missing. The loss cost the government between P100 million to about half a billion pesos, the Bureau of Customs said on Wednesday.
According to a report by Jun Veneracion in GMA News TV's State of the Nation with Jessica Soho, the containers disappeared between April and August 2018 during the term of then Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña.
The BOC discovered the irregularity after conducting a massive evaluation at the Port of Manila last January.
Customs Assistant Commissioner Jet Maronilla said that Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero ordered the creation of a special investigation committee on February 22.
A fire incident coincidentally occurred at the building of the BOC-Port of Manila on the same day.
The incident led investigators to speculate that the offices were intentionally set on fire to destroy pieces of evidence.
Fortunately, they were able to retrieve the necessary documents.
According to the investigation conducted from February to May, the 641 shipping containers that went missing have been declared as "ship spares" to evade taxes.
These were also found to be shipped out without going through the computer system monitoring because they were processed through the Informal Entry Division.
Maronilla said the smuggled containers could have been filled with rice, sugar, or cigarettes.
At present, five Customs officials are under investigation for possible "gross neglect of duty."
Administrative cases were also filed against others who were suspected to be involved in the case.
GMA News tried to seek comment from those accused but only Atty. Dino Austria, the former district collector of the Manila International Container Port, gave a response as of posting time.
Austria denied having a hand in the disappearance of the containers.
"I have conducted my own fact-finding as well. I was the district collector of Port of Manila in 2018 and looked into the records and I will be submitting my report to the appropriate offices including the Office of the President," he said.
Austria was transferred to the Port of Davao on Wednesday based on results of BOC's performance evaluation.
The BOC clarified that the move has nothing to do with the issue of missing containers.
GMA News is still trying to get the comment of Lapeña.
It can be recalled that in March 2018, 105 containers of ceramic tiles from China and other imported products mysteriously vanished at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) despite an “alert order” preventing the release of the items.
After a few days, then BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña announced that 85 were recovered in Bulacan.
Lapeña then revoked the accreditation of several importers and brokers involved in the controversy.
In 2011, close to 2,000 containers had also disappeared enroute to the Port of Batangas, depriving the government of taxes and duties. — Dona Magsino/BAP, GMA News