Gordon orders release of Faeldon from detention
After six months in Senate detention and a month and a half at the Pasay City Jail, former Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon was released, 12.7 kilograms (28 pounds) lighter, on Monday.
Faeldon has promised to attend the next hearings of the Senate blue ribbon committee, answer its queries and not to talk back to senators.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the blue ribbon committee, ordered Faeldon’s release as his committee was about to conclude its fourth hearing on allegations of a payola system at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) that benefited him and other agency officials.
It was on Faeldon’s watch at the BOC that a shipment of “shabu” (crystal meth) worth P6.4 billion from China got past customs personnel in Manila last May.
A customs fixer linked the shipment to the so-called Davao Group that allegedly included a son of President Rodrigo Duterte, Paolo, who was then serving as vice mayor of Davao City.
The fixer later denied linking Paolo to the group that facilitated the release of shipments at the BOC in exchange for millions of pesos in payments to the group and customs officials.
The fallout from the scandal led to Paolo’s resignation.
Faeldon was freed barely two hours after Monday’s Senate hearing. Gordon did not ask any questions on the allegations raised by Sen. Panfilo Lacson against the former BOC head in a privilege speech last year.
Faeldon was cited in contempt by the Senate in September last year for refusing to testify and appear at the hearings.
He denied Lacson’s allegations that he received payola from the alleged “players” at the BOC and filed ethics complaints against Lacson and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.
The complaints have since been dismissed by the Senate ethics committee.
Transfer to Pasay jail
On Jan. 29, the Senate ordered Faeldon’s transfer to the Pasay City Jail after he tangled with Gordon.
The senator told reporters that he did not consult members of his committee on the release, saying they had authorized him to do so.
“He behaved himself and he assured me [this] when I saw him earlier. He said ‘you’re my friend,’ but I told him, ‘it’s not the friendship but the respect for the Senate,’” Gordon said.
He said Faeldon would attend the next hearings. The committee has set one for March 20.
As Monday’s hearing was about to conclude, Gordon called the attention of Faeldon, saying “we will call you on your cognizance that when we ask you questions there will be no back talking and you will answer questions directly.”
Faeldon replied in the affirmative and made the same reply when Gordon asked if the Senate could get his commitment that he would not talk back to the senators.
“So the committee chair hereby orders your release from incarceration,” Gordon told him, prompting applause that did not sit well with the committee chair.
He said Faeldon did not disrespect him, but the Senate, “and I’m duty-bound to protect the Senate.”
“This whole brouhaha” could have been avoided had Faeldon answered the questions of the senators, he said.
“We don’t find pleasure in putting people in contempt. I’m not on a power trip here. The committee or the Senate is not on a power trip here … [W]e don’t hesitate to enforce our rules,” he added.
‘No help from Palace’
Faeldon denied that he had sought help from the Palace for his release.
He declined to answer more questions from reporters, letting his lawyer face the journalists as they awaited release papers from the Pasay City Jail.
While in detention, Faeldon was appointed deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense.
Lacson did not mind Faeldon’s release, saying the former customs commissioner “already answered for whatever indiscretion that he committed during the hearings.”
He said Faeldon had suffered enough during detention.
Payola system still alive
The senator said he had already “moved on” from the Faeldon issue.
Asked if the “tara” (payola) system was still continuing at the BOC, Lacson said money that was being made at the bureau did not come from tara.
Importers, he said, were reportedly coughing up money because of threats that the release of their shipments would be delayed.
But Lacson said Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, who succeeded Faeldon, was “doing his darn best to introduce reforms” at his agency.
“Coming from the previous administration, the BOC is in much better good hands now than before,” the senator said.
At the hearing, Lapeña told Gordon that the tara system was still going on but that the agency had improved its collection of taxes.
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