CUSTOMS chief Yogi Filemon Ruiz must wrestle with the ship-ghosting issue, when during his watch seven years ago, something as big as a vessel disappeared without a trace with no one getting held accountable for it.
Both the hijacking of MT Rehobot in Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia in January and the vessel’s discovery off the coast of Mati City in Davao Oriental in February in 2015 took place during the watch of Commissioner John P. Sevilla, former President Benigno Aquino’s third Customs commissioner.
The Manila Standard on August 24, 2015 reported that Sevilla resigned from BoC from political pressure as the 2016 presidential polls neared. He said he didn’t want to use the agency he headed as a “milking cow” for politicians in the coming elections.
He mentioned that an influential religious group lobbying to appoint certain people in key posts at the bureau, particularly in “very sensitive” positions, among them Teddy Sandy Raval, acting chief of the BOC Intellectual Property Rights Division, who wanted to be moved to Enforcement and Security Services (ESS), a unit involved in anti-smuggling operations.
Lawyer Raval got the position he wanted and eventually got appointed as the Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau’s Enforcement Group—under which the ESS falls. Coincidentally, Raval was head of the MT Rehobot probe body tasked to investigate the “ghosting” incident.
In 2017, then Customs chief Yogi Filemon Ruiz was moved from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Cebu City to BoC to head the ESS. When the MICP District Collector issued a Warrant of Seizure and Detention (WSD) “directing the ESS District Commander and his agents to seize custody of the MT Rehobot and turn over the same to the Auction and Cargo Disposal Division (ACDD)” in February, 2019, Ruiz was the ESS Director. Since then, we have yet to hear from Commish Yogi on the status of the investigation of MT Rebohot.
Until the res or goods are in customs’ custody or have become government properties-- safe from pilferage or larceny-- the BOC failed in combing our borders from smuggled goods.
The recent P6.7 billion drug haul—the biggest ever—was not the first nor the last incident of undetected entry of illicit drugs.
As for MT Rehobot, the declaration of lawyer Tomas Tagra, then MICP Chief of the Law Division at the FCC’s investigation is very instructive. He said: “once a WSD is issued, the service thereof to BOC offices is immaterial since the BOC acquires jurisdiction over the res…” Clearly, then, the BOC has assumed custody over the res—MT Rehobot.
The ESS—then under Director Yogi Ruiz-- had the mandate to secure the tanker-vessel from theft and all forms of dissipation, pending the agency’s appropriate disposition. Unfortunately, the silence over the circumstances of MT Rehobot’s loss is only getting louder and hopes of its resolution get dimmer.
Ruiz’ predecessor’s referral of the matter to other investigative agencies like the NBI was in order. The BoC is not proscribed from pursuing, even just to monitor the status of investigation.
Until then, this “ghosting” of a ship will continue to haunt Yogi Ruiz.