Duterte sacks customs chiefs after meth blunder

Embattled Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked all customs bosses after their agency failed to intercept more than a tonne of drugs.

Duterte said Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena would become director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, a training agency.

“Everyone out, to the last man – the commissioners are out, the department heads out,” the 73-year-old former lawyer said.

Duterte said retired general Rey Guerrero, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority, would take over customs, along with other former army officers.

The outspoken president Duterte is facing his first serious dip in his popularity ratings amid soaring inflation, which has caused the price of rice, bread and fuel to double.

“I know that [Guerrero] are reluctant to – I know that you’re happy [in your current role] and you are contented, so I’ve heard, but the demands of public service and the need for honest men requires your presence there. Good luck,” Duterte said, according to Rappler.

Lapena, a retired police chief, has been blamed for customs officers’ failure to seize a US$126.5-billion shipment of methamphetamines, known as syabu, in August. The tonne of meth was allegedly hidden inside four magnetic lifters used at the customs bureau itself.

Drug enforcement sniffer dogs found traces of meth in the containers in which they were smuggled and 11 Chinese suspects were linked to the shipment.

The previous customs chief was removed after failing to capture a huge influx of drugs in May last year.

Thousands have been killed in Duterte’s so-called war on drugs since he took office in 2016.

At least two murder charges have been filed at the International Criminal Court against Duterte, who pulled the Philippines out of the body.

Senator Leila De Lima, who had criticised the bloody crackdown, was jailed after Duterte accused her of bankrolling her senatorial candidacy with drug money. She denies the accusations.

“The biggest question in the Duterte administration’s drug war is not being answered by Malacañang [presidential palace] in its anaemic response to the smuggling of billions of pesos worth of syabu when compared to its impunity in killing alleged small-time pushers and addicts,” De Lima said this week.

The populist former Davao mayor was “exceptionally indifferent” to prosecuting drug bosses, she claimed.

“One is tempted to believe that he is protecting them,” the senator said. “And that his drug war is nothing but a sham to cover-up his own role as the number one protector of big-time drug lords in the country.”

Drugs have a profound grip on large areas of the Philippines. Picture credit: PXHere