, January 27, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  -  President Arroyo has asked Subic Bay Freeport Task Force chief retired general Jose Calimlim to "take his gloves off" and spare no one in the campaign against big-time smugglers, including those supposedly protected by high government officials.

"The Presidentís order is to spare no sacred cows in the anti-smuggling campaign and General Calimlim is assured of full backing on this score," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

The presidential directive was issued a day after Calimlim disclosed that some government officials, including lawmakers, are protecting certain businessmen who were recently apprehended by the Task Force.

Calimlim particularly mentioned the recent seizure of P26 million worth of jewels which were misdeclared as computer parts.

"We are confident that General Calimlim is prepared to back up his statements with proof and he must be given a chance to perform given the fact that he has just started in his post," Bunye said.

"We must not allow a single centavo intended for the national treasury to end up in the pockets of smugglers and their cohorts in the government," he said.

Bunye made public the official Palace position over Calimlimís claims amid calls by lawmakers seeking an inquiry over his alleged diversion of some P2 million worth of Chinese luncheon meat.

Calimlim said he is ready to answer the allegations but exhorted the lawmakers against being misled by a disinformation campaign waged by suspected smugglers.

"I would not be distracted by this smear drive against me and I thank the President for her all out support to this campaign," he said.

Congressmen led by Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay had filed a resolution calling for an investigation over the alleged diversion made by Calimlim.

Other lawmakers including Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles and Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas called on Calimlim to identify the government officials supposedly coddling big-time smugglers.

Cerilles said Calimlim should quit for using MalacaŮang as "a scapegoat" for his wrongdoing.

"Delicadeza dictates that former General Calimlim should resign for putting MalacaŮang in a bad light after admitting he diverted the seized goods to MalacaŮang on the excuse that these will be used for the typhoon victims," he said.

Cerilles warned Calimlim against muddling the issue by dragging lawmakers and other government officials in the alleged smuggling activities in Subic.

"Why has he not filed cases against them if they are indeed liable for coddling smugglers?" Cerilles asked.

Cerilles said Calimlim should explain why smuggling prevails in Subic under his watch. "He should answer all these issues rather than muddle them and blame others for his failure to stop smuggling."

Cagas, for his part, said the allegations made by Calimlim against members of Congress are a serious issue he must answer.

"He should be willing enough to answer the issue directly instead of questioning the efforts to probe him," Cagas said.

On the other hand, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) issued a statement expressing support for Calimlim.

"We (the SBMA board) are in full support of Gen. Calimlimís effort to clean up the Freeportís image as a haven for smugglers. Our administration shall never tolerate any illegal or nefarious activities in the Freeport," SBMA administrator Alfredo Antonio said.

Antonio said the SBMA board has unanimously resolved to express "its strong and full support to all legal actions and measures being undertaken and implemented" by the task force headed by Calimlim.

SBMA director Mario Garcia said "the fight of General Calimlim is the fight of the whole (SBMA) board."

Antonio added that since the inception of Calimlimís anti-smuggling campaign last November, some P50 million worth of smuggled goods were seized.

Antonio said the Freeport has remitted a total of P2.9 billion to the national treasury.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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