Customs fixer paid P92M in payola
Customs fixer Mark Taguba said on Monday that he had shelled out P92 million in payola to ensure his shipments would slip out of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) easily.
But Taguba said he had to fork out more money on many occasions for shipments that were red-flagged twice or thrice.
At the resumption of the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the “tara” (payola) system at the bureau, Taguba showed how money changed hands, presenting call logs and text messages with tara “collectors.”
He backed these up with bank withdrawal slips he made for the payoffs.
Evidence of corruption
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Taguba’s testimony was the “evidence of corruption” at the BOC, which former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon denied happened on his watch.
Lacson said he would show more proof of corruption, noting that his staff was still analyzing Taguba’s phone, which had records of the fixer’s dealings at the bureau.
At the 10th hearing of the Senate panel, Taguba said he gave out P92 million when he facilitated shipments for clients from August last year to May this year.
On questioning by the committee chair, Sen. Richard Gordon, Taguba said the money he used for payoffs came from “clients” of the shipments (mostly general merchandise) that he facilitated.
“You really cannot do it cleanly,” Taguba said.
Call logs, text messages
Presenting his call logs and text messages from collectors of tara at the BOC, Taguba said he spent P170,000 per container for duties and taxes plus P27,200 in tara.
For instance, for March 27-31 and April 3-7, he shelled out a total of P489,600 in tara for 18 containers brought in by EMT Trading.
He said the payoffs were given to the Import Assessment Services, Intelligence Group, collectors, formal entry division, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) director, CIIS district, Enforcement and Security (ESS) director, ESS district, Pier Inspection Division, Assessment and Operational Coordinating Group, and X-ray personnel.
For shipments from EMT Trading and others totaling 207 containers in the same period, Taguba said he paid out P35.19 million, including almost P15 million for tara.
He showed withdrawal slips from three banks amounting to P25.2 million, or less than the P35.19 million.
Taguba said this was because some clients like Kenneth Dong paid him in cash.
CIIS ‘tara’ recipients
He also presented phone logs showing the people, including Joey Pinawin, collector for CIIS, who called him to request the tara during the period.
Pinawin, who was at the hearing, denied he requested tara from Taguba through a certain Mae.
He said he called Mae because of an alert order on the latter’s shipment at the time. Pinawin also called Taguba weeks later.
Other callers of Taguba asking for tara were a certain Jake, Jack, Noel and Tita Nani of the Davao Group; Winnie, Johnny de Vera, Jojo Baccud, Gemma Castillo and Teddy Sagaral.
Lacson said that besides the regular tara for a shipment to be placed in the green lane, Taguba would give additional payoffs for “special stop” orders on shipments that were previously flagged.
Taguba said he was asked to “voluntarily upgrade” or pay an additional amount so that it would not take long for his shipment to be released.
He described the special stop order as something that would make one “cry blood.”
Lacson told reporters that the special stop order would mean an additional P250,000 to P300,000.
He said this order was issued by the Office of the Commissioner, which gets P50,000 for the lifting of the order.
At the hearing, Lacson pointed out that Mike Sabban, a technical assistant at the office of Faeldon, could request special stop orders.
“So there, you could see that it’s centralized,” Lacson told reporters.
He said Taguba’s testimony was the proof of corruption at the BOC that Faeldon had been asking for.
Lacson said more documents were being analyzed as his staff was developing cases against Faeldon on top of the rice smuggling case involving P34 million, which he said he would file in the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday against Faeldon.
The senator said Faeldon ordered the release of the smuggled rice shipment. “This is nonbailable because economic sabotage is a capital offense,” Lacson said.
No drugs in his shipment
On questioning by Sen. Bam Aquino, Taguba said he paid tara to the BOC for the release of the shipment that turned out to be containing P6.4-billion in “shabu” (crystal meth) from China in May.
But Taguba insisted that this shipment did not contain drugs, reiterating his earlier testimony that when the shipment was delivered to the warehouse of Richard Chen, it was not heavy enough to contain the metal cylinders that yielded the illegal drugs.
“My driver said he did not deliver cylinders (to the warehouse). For these cylinders to be taken down from the truck, you will need a forklift,” he said.
Taguba noted that the metal cylinders were not on the list of his shipment. He said he had never brought in molds as shipment.
Molds brought in by Taguba
But Lacson told Taguba that based on the latter’s shipments, he did bring in molds on Nov. 10 and 24 last year and January this year.
The senator said the heaviest mold weighed more than 8 tons.
Taguba said he would check his shipment records.
Gordon said he would hold the next hearing on Oct. 12.
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