Tuesday, May 21, 2019
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Philippines: Duterte sacks top customs officials over drugs

Failure to intercept a tonne of drugs prompts Philippines' leader to order restaffing of customs office.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte removed all top customs bureau officials, including the chief, a day after the agency failed to intercept more than a tonne of drugs.

Duterte said on Thursday that Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena would be reassigned to the role of the director general of Technical Education and Skills Development Authority - a government training agency in the Philippines.

According to local media, he described the transfer as a "promotion". 

"The commissioners are out, the department heads are out," he said during a speech at a ceremony commemorating the founding of the coastguard.

Duterte announced he was appointing Rey Guerrero, a retired army general who is currently the administrator of Maritime Industry Authority, to take over the bureau and soldiers and members of the coastguard would help him.

"I know that you [Guerrero] are reluctant to - I know that you're happy there [in Marina] 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," he said, according to Rappler, a Filipino news site.

READ MORE: Philippines' Duterte vows to continue 'chilling' war on drugs

Surprise new posting

Lapena, who was at the ceremony, expressed surprise by his removal but thanked Duterte for his new posting.

The retired police general has been under pressure since customs authorities failed to detect a shipment estimated at more than a tonne of methamphetamines being smuggled into the country in July.

Drug enforcement agents later found traces of the drugs in the containers in which they were smuggled, but the drugs were gone.

Duterte did not refer to that case on Thursday.

The previous head of the customs bureau was removed after a huge amount of drugs were smuggled into the country in May last year.

Duterte has made a bloody fight against drugs the centrepiece of his administration since he won a presidential election in 2016. Thousands of people have been killed in the crackdown.

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