Broker accuses BOC execs of accepting bribes
Cloaked with legislative immunity, customs broker Mark Taguba on Monday accused five major officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) of taking bribes to facilitate his shipments.
Taguba said the officials were Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Group Teddy Raval, Manila International Container Port (MICP) District Collector Vincent Philip Maronilla, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) Director Neil Estrella, MICP-CIIS District Intelligence Officer Teodoro Sagaral and Import Assessment Service (IAS) Director Milo Maestrecampo.
He also cited several people whose full names he did not know: a deceased Major Gutierrez, a certain Jason of the X-ray Division, a certain Maita of the Formal Entry Division as well as Jojo, Jake, Gerry, Teddy, Alex, Sandra and Alfred.
He provided the cell phone numbers of Gerry, Jake, Jojo and Teddy, but Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia said the numbers could not be reached when she dialed them.
Taguba was forced to identify the officials after Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro pressed him to approach them during the House dangerous drugs committee’s inquiry into the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) into the country in May.
The officials strongly denied taking bribes, either directly or through others.
Maestrecampo was especially upset by the hit to his reputation.
“When I go back to BOC, I will step down from my appointed post. I will submit anything to the investigation,” said Maestrecampo, who, together with now-Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and other junior military officers, mutineed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on July 27, 2003.
“I may probably be a rebel but I’m not a thief,” he said.
During the continuation of the dangerous drugs committee’s investigation on Monday, Taguba said customs brokers paid as much as P34,500 in “tara”—grease money—per container to customs employees to speed up the processing of their shipments and avoid being flagged for issues that would have led to stricter inspections. This was on top of the P40,000 value-added tax, he said.
He claimed that P10,000 of that amount usually goes to Maestrecampo’s IAS, through a certain “Tita Nani,” because the division became the sole BOC unit with power to issue alert orders on suspect shipments after Faeldon reorganized the agency.
“They have this Tita Nani who gives me tariff codes to use so I would not get an alert. Only the IAS has the power to alert,” Taguba said.
Maestrecampo said he knew neither Taguba nor Tita Nani, and pointed out that just because unscrupulous people name-drop officials, their reputations are “equally destroyed.”
“I live in a small town. You have already destroyed me,” he said during the hearing, which was broadcast live. “I’m not receiving anything. I’m contented with my salary. I don’t know what I have to say now that you have put this out in the media.”
Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala and Port Operation Service Director James Layug likewise denied knowing Tita Nani, although Layug noted that a certain Hernani Co serves as a division head in his office.
Raval, meanwhile, denied having an employee named Gerry who received payoffs from Taguba and even enumerated his four subordinates. He also said he never met Taguba, either.
Maronilla admitted he had met Taguba, but denied he or his office asked for bribes.
“It’s very easy for people to get the impression the District Collector’s Office has full control, full powers of whatever happens in the Port [of Manila],” he said, adding that his office had already lost “certain prerogatives” and could not issue alert orders on Faeldon’s watch at the agency.
Sagaral was also upset. “It’s sad to think our names have been tainted,” he said.
Estrella, who headed the raid into the warehouse where the 605 kilograms of shabu was recovered, said he would not have tried to bust the drug shipment if it were true that he received payoffs.
He said he met Taguba only after the May 29 raid, when the broker assisted in bringing alleged middleman Kenneth Dong to the National Bureau of Investigation.
“If we received the money, why did we run after this shipment?” said Estrella, who took the heat from lawmakers criticizing the raid for violating procedures, contaminating evidence and possibly killing any chance of a case prospering in court.
“I’ll face my accuser in the proper forum,” he said.
House members have described the drug smuggling as the biggest in the BOC’s history and criticized the agency for allowing the shipment to leave the port and bungling the ensuing raid.
The customs officials were previously criticized for lacking the administrative and legal knowledge in handling such operations.
On Monday, however, Director for Legal Service Alvin Ebreo told the hearing that the illegal drug case could still be pursued.
Lawmakers have pointed out that the lack of a search warrant might lead to the exclusion of the seized shabu as evidence, but Ebreo said a letter of authority issued by Faeldon was enough authorization because “it’s an antismuggling operation [first], and second, a drug operation.”
The lack of a search warrant can also be remedied by the waiver of consent signed by warehouse owner Richard Chen, Ebreo said.
Faeldon did not attend the hearing, as he was in the hospital for a “dental emergency,” Deputy Commissioner Natalio Ecarma III told the lawmakers.
Dong, who allegedly acted as a middleman for Chen in hiring EMT Trading as a consignee to receive the shipment, did not attend the hearing as well.
His lawyer informed the committee in a letter that Dong was still preparing his affidavit.
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