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Hundreds of thousands of grams of shabu

Two things stand out in the congressional investigations into the seizure last May of 600 kilos of shabu worth P6.4 billion in two warehouses in Valenzuela City that had passed through the Bureau of Customs.

One is the corruption that allows shipments of goods to pass through customs without inspection and the system of “tara” or grease money allegedly given by importers to facilitate the release of their cargo.

At the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Tuesday, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon initially declined to answer some very direct questions from Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. After a warning from the committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, however, he relented and said he knew of the “tara” system but he could not conduct an investigation by himself. He said the people he was working with “are the people I suspect to do all this ‘tara’, so how can I designate them to conduct the investigation?”

Corruption is an old problem at the Bureau of Customs but it is certainly not confined to that bureau. The amounts involved, in the hundreds of thousands of pesos, pale in comparison with the millions in plunder cases that have already been filed against some officials, including members of Congress.

The bigger issue that has come up in the ongoing congressional hearings is the huge volume of drugs that have managed to enter the country, not via smuggling routes but right through the Bureau of Customs.

On the same day that Commissioner Faeldon was testifying in the Senate, the Bulacan police were conducting a province-wide drive to round up drug suspects. They killed a total of 21 men who, they said, fought the arresting officers in 12 Bulacan towns and cities in a nine-hour period. Among those killed were two men in Obando found with 50 grams of shabu; another in Balagtas had three grams. At the end of the day’s operations, the police said they had confiscated a total of 100 grams.

How puny those 100 grams of shabu look beside the 600 kilos – or 600,000 grams – that had managed to slip through Customs and were caught only in a raid in Valenzuela City. And how many more shipments have managed to escape all detection to spread the scourge of drugs all over the country?

Cases have now been filed against the importers and brokers involved in the 600,000 grams of shabu seized in Valenzuela City. Somewhere out there in the country, there must be hundreds of other thousands of grams that made it through Customs. How many more lives of addicts will be destroyed because of those shipments and how many more lives will be lost in the ongoing police drive to stop the drug menace in the country?