BOC ‘tara’ trail leads to Davao City
A “fixer,” who helped smuggle into the country P6.4 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) from China, testified on Tuesday that he gave P5 million in “enrollment fee” to a Davao City councilor with alleged close links to Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, a son of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Mark Ruben Taguba II told the Senate blue ribbon committee that he gave payoffs to members of the “Davao Group” in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) so that shipments he would bring in would not be inspected.
Taguba said he went to Davao City to meet Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera Jr. and handed him P5 million in cash.
Both Vice Mayor Duterte and Abellera declined to comment.
Earlier, Vice Mayor Duterte also refused to comment on Taguba’s claims saying, “One does not dignify lies with a response.”
Abellera was invited by the blue ribbon committee, but he did not show up at the fourth hearing on the shabu smuggling, pleading hypertension.
Small, a certain Tita Nani and a certain Jack were earlier identified by Taguba as members of the Davao Group in the BOC.
He gave the blue ribbon committee at a previous hearing a list of people he was bribing as part of the “tara” (grease money) system in the BOC.
The trucker-turned-fixer helped bring in 604 kilos of shabu that got past the BOC on May 17 and ended up in a warehouse in Valenzuela City.
The shipment was recovered by BOC agents following a tip from China and Richard Chen, whose company had shipped what turned out to be illegal drugs.
At the hearing, Taguba confirmed that the man in a picture shown by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was Abellera, who, he said, he had met in a restaurant in Davao City.
“I am trying to establish here that Mr. Small Abellera is known in Davao as close to Mr. Paolo Duterte and you could see several pictures here to show their closeness,” Trillanes said.
Taguba read to the committee his Jan. 11 communication with Tita Nani in which he asked that he be “enrolled” so that he could be in the “market.”
In her text message response, Tita Nani said she would make the “final arrangement” with Jack, whom she described as the “handler of Paolo.”
“Now we have to advance d lmln so he can fly dwn to davao to arrange ur mtng with Pulong asap. During the mtng u personally turn over d 5mln. Same manner u likewise turn over d lmln to jack wn we meet,” according to the text message.
Asked by Trillanes if he was sure that Abellera was representing Vice Mayor Duterte before he handed the P5 million, Taguba said he was told that this was the case.
He said he had no choice at that time but to meet with Abellera because his shipment had been placed on alert by Mike Sabban, a technical assistant at the BOC who had a fight with his father.
Taguba said he would pay P10,000 per container to the Davao Group afterward or P1 million weekly depending on the number of containers that arrived.
He earlier said that customs brokers paid as much as P34,500 in grease money per container to BOC employees to speed up the processing of their shipments and avoid being flagged for issues that would have led to stricter inspections.
The amount was on top of the P40,000 value-added tax, he said.
10,000 containers daily
Some 10,000 containers go through the BOC daily.
Taguba said he dealt with the Davao Group because Sabban, who he said was a brother of retired Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, had placed his shipment on alert as a result of Sabban’s falling out with his father.
Trillanes later told reporters that the connection between Abellera and Vice Mayor Duterte was very clear.
“We will solidify these links when Abellera attends the next hearing,” the senator said.
President Duterte has vowed to resign if critics can prove that members of his family are involved in corruption.
“If my son [Paolo Duterte] was really into it or is in there, all you have to do is to produce the paper,” Mr. Duterte said on Aug. 11. “Just give me an affidavit and I will step down as President of this republic.”
The blue ribbon committee chair, Sen. Richard Gordon, said he would invite Abellera to the next hearing scheduled for Aug. 30.
Taguba said at the hearing that his meeting with Abellera became possible after he was introduced to him by the group of Tita Nani, whose last name he did not know but who was known to be “influential” in the BOC.
He said he met with Tita Nani in Eastwood in Pasig City. A certain Jojo Bacud introduced Tita Nani to him, he said.
Bacud in turn was introduced to him by his father, Michael Ruben Taguba Jr., when Nicanor Faeldon became customs commissioner.
Taguba said that Bacud was also from Cagayan like his father and that all he knew was that he was connected with the BOC’s Special Studies and Project Development Office.
But BOC officials told the committee that there was no Jojo Bacud working in the bureau.
Taguba said he gave Bacud P5,000 per container so that his shipments would not be put on alert in the bureau.
But when his shipment was placed on alert by Sabban, Taguba said he asked Bacud for help but was told that Sabban was indeed influential in the BOC. It was then that Bacud introduced her to Tita Nani.
Airport exec on leave
An official at Ninoy Aquino International Airport has gone on leave after a witness in the Senate probe tagged him as part of the Davao Group.
Retired Col. Allen Capuyan, assistant general manager of security and emergency services, filed a leave of absence, Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal said in a statement.
Taguba named Capuyan, alias “Big Brother” and “Noel,” as a member of the Davao Group.
He said he did not know Capuyan’s full name but it was provided by Trillanes, who said Capuyan was a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983. —With a report from Jerome Aning
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