October 25, 2018 / 12:27 PM / a year ago

Philippines' Duterte sacks all top customs officials over drugs

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte fired the head of the Bureau of Customs on Thursday and ordered all top bureau officials replaced after the agency failed to intercept more than a ton of drugs, the second such case in two years.

FILE PHOTO: Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Isidro Lapena, shows approximately 2.06 kilograms of Shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride, hidden in the toy boxes package shipped from California, U.S., confiscated at the FEDEX warehouse in Manila International Airport, during a news conference at the BOC in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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

Duterte said Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena was being removed from his post and all his deputies and top officials would be transferred.

“The commissioners are out, the department heads are out,” Duterte said during a speech at a ceremony commemorating the founding of the coastguard.

He said he was appointing retired army general to take over the bureau and soldiers and members of the coastguard would help him.

Duterte said Lapena would be reassigned to a government training agency.

Lapena, who was at the ceremony, expressed surprise by his transfer and commented briefly to reporters to express his thanks to Duterte for his new posting. He was not available for comment later.

Lapena, a retired police general, has been under pressure since customs authorities failed to detect a shipment estimated at more than a ton 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.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel

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