Duterte Orders Military Takeover of Customs After Meth Smuggling

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will replace all officials at the country’s Bureau of Customs with military officers after illegal drugs worth billions of pesos allegedly slipped through the agency.

“It will be a takeover of the Armed Forces in the matter of operating in the meantime while we are sorting out how to effectively meet the challenges of corruption in this country,” Duterte said Sunday night in speech at the birthday celebration of his former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Duterte, who has led an anti-drug war that’s killed thousands of people since he took office in June 2016 that has attracted widespread international condemnation, said he is yet to issue a formal memorandum effecting the changes.

Duterte said there were “lawless elements” within the Bureau of Customs, the nation’s second biggest revenue earner, and ordered the agency’s intelligence unit to report directly to him.

From now on, three signatures from either navy or coast guard officials, will be required before a container can be released from customs’ control. Customs police have also been placed on so-called “floating status,” where they continue to be employed by the agency, but with no specific role, designation or department to report to.

Last week Duterte transferred Bureau of Customs chief Isidro Lapena to another government post after lawmakers launched an investigation into the alleged smuggling of as much as 11 billion pesos ($205 million) worth of methamphetamine that apparently slipped through the agency in August.

Read more: Duterte Replaces Customs Chief Amid Drug Probe, Orders Overhaul

Describing both Lapena and his predecessor Nicanor Faeldon as “honest” men, Duterte said but there has been “continuous play of corruption” within the agency, particularly among the lower levels.

“By openly pushing for the military takeover of a civilian agency, President Duterte is violating the constitutional principle of the supremacy of civilian authority over the military,” opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement critical of the takeover, adding that it was was “dictatorial.”

Duterte also reiterated his support for Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who has overall supervision of the Customs Bureau, saying he was a “very good friend” who “can do wonders for the country.”

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