Customs bureau ready to face House probe

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Sunday, July 27, 2014


TO PROVE that anomalous and illegal transactions are not taking place in the Northern Mindanao’s ports, specifically gun smuggling, an official of the Bureau of Customs (BOC-10) said the bureau is willing to face Congressional inquiry anytime.

This is the Customs response to Representative Rufus Rodriguez, of the city’s second district, and his brother Representative Maximo Rodriguez Jr. of Abante Mindanao (Abamin) partylist, who filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the alleged gunrunning activities involving California, USA Senator Leland Yee.

Yee, who was reported to be a gun control advocate, was arrested last March 26, 2014 in a raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in San Francisco, California.

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A copy of the resolution was published as a paid advertisement in this paper on July 21, 2014.

The resolution directed the Lower House’s committees on ways and means and public order and safety to conduct an inquiry, “in aid of legislation, on reports that illegal firearms seized during the arrest of California State Senator [Yee] were trafficked [through] the Cagayan de Oro port.”

A New York Daily News online article dated March 26, 2014 recounted how Yee discussed “helping the undercover FBI agent get weapons worth $500,000 to $2.5 million, including shoulder-fired automatic weapons and missiles, and showed the agent the entire process of how to get those weapons from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines into the United States,” according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua.

'Nothing to hide'

Lawyer Roswald Joseph Pague, BOC-10 administrative officer, told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro that they are ready to face the Congressional investigating body to shed light on the issue and clear the bureau’s name from the allegations.

“We have nothing to hide. The BOC-10 is transparent and we welcome whatever inquiry is conducted by Congress,” Pague said, adding that the customs bureau has not received any report of gun smuggling activities in the port of Cagayan de Oro.

He clarified that is very unlikely for the Philippines to become the exporter, either through legal or illegal means, of high-powered weapons.

“It never happened that the Philippines is exporting arms to other countries. But it could be the other way around,” Pague said, referring to the possibility that firearms could be smuggled into the country via the local seaports.

As far as the BOC-10 is concerned, he said there is no direct shipping route from the city to any port in the United States, contrary to what was alleged in the resolution.

“… [T]he weapons would allegedly be shipped from the Port of Manila or the Port of Cagayan de Oro to the Port of Newark then to Sicily and the on to North Africa…,” it stated.

Besides, Pague added, once the cargoes from other countries reach the U.S. ports, these are put on hold for three days before releasing to comply with their inspection processes conducted by the Customs and Border Protection agency.

“The American authorities are very stringent when it comes to shipments entering their ports. Cargoes are subjected to various examination procedures and verification before they are cleared,” he said.

He said gunrunners would think twice before sneaking in smuggled arms into the United States since it is “highly impossible” that a cache of weapons could enter the American territory unnoticed.

Pague said the alleged gunrunning could be a “diversion” since even the U.S. government did not bother to probe deeper into the allegation. He did not elaborate.

The resolution said “Yee allegedly brokered a $2 million firearms deal with an undercover FBI agent between Jan. 22 and March 14 wherein the weapons were to be purchased from a Philippine-based arms dealer with a certain Filipino-American Wilson Sy Lim, of Daly City being names as Yee’s liaison with the arms dealer in Mindanao…”

“… This same scheme is what was previously used when a Filipino who previously sold guns to Yee’s group shipped the weapons from the port of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines to Florida where they were picked up by unidentified individuals and shipped to an unknown location…,” it added.

On Friday, July 25, 2014, the L.A. Times reported that a federal indictment had expanded criminal charges against Yee to include racketeering, aside from the various charges he is already facing, namely, the alleged firearms trafficking, murder-for-hire, money laundering, defrauding citizens of honest service, drug distribution, and trafficking illegal cigarettes.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 28, 2014.

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