THROUGH intense and air tight interpellation of Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, customs broker Mark Taguba II, who facilitated the release through the Bureau of Customs (BOC) of the P6.4 billion shipment of shabu, on Monday revealed the Customs officials who allegedly received bribes from him, including men handpicked by Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
The 600 kilos of shabu shipped from Xiamen in China was coursed through the green lane of the BOC thus avoiding any inspection.
Among those named by Taguba were Customs Intelligence chief Neil Estrella; Milo Maestrecampo, director of the BOC Import and Assessment Service; Deputy Commissioner Teddy Raval; and District Collector Atty. Vincent Philip Maronilla.
Taguba also named a certain Teddy Sagaran, a certain “Jason”, “Maita” from the formal entry division of the bureau, and a “Major Gutierrez”, whom the witness said is already deceased; “Jojo”, “Jake”, “Sandra”, and “Alfred”.
“You are a hero,” said Castro after Taguba told the names in the hearing. The House Committee on Dangerous Drugs earlier granted Taguba immunity from prosecution.
Raval denied the accusation.
“I have not met Mr. Taguba prior to his meeting. I have not talked by phone or in person to Mr. Taguba”, he said.
Taguba confirmed Raval’s statement, saying he is talking to a certain “Gerry” in Raval’s office.
Maronilla admitted having met Taguba before but denied receiving bribes. He said he has not authorized anyone to accept anything for the District Collector office. However, Taguba said there was a “collector” for the purpose.
Estrella admitted that while they committed lapses in the drug raid, he denied receiving any bribe money in connection with the P6.4 billion shabu.
“Napakalaking epekto po nito sa amin. Ang pakiramdam ko ho sa ngayon, ito ho ang risk ng ating profession. I will face my accuser in the proper forum,” said Estrella.
For his part, Maestrecampo also denied the allegation, saying he does not know Taguba personally.
“I’m not receiving money from anybody; I am content with my sahod. When I go back to the Customs I will step down from my post. I will subject myself to any investigation. I am probably a rebel but I’m not a thief,” he said.
However, he also said that personally he believes “this thing”, or corruption, persists in the BOC.
Likewise, Sagaran denied Taguba’s allegation, saying his record of over three decades of service to the BOC is clean. He said he met Taguba only on three occasions.
Also during the hearing, Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian on Monday said criminal charges filed against the suspects in the smuggling of the P6.4 billion worth of shabu smuggled through the BOC would likely be dismissed due to the improper handling of the raid that weakened the evidence.
This developed as Estrella, a BOC intelligence officer, admitted during the continuation of the hearing of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs that the raid on two Valenzuela warehouses where the 605 kilos of shabu was discovered was not covered by a proper warrant but only by a Letter of Authority from the BOC.
“Wala man lang kayong warrant nung pumasok kayo sa warehouse. Tingin ko po itong kaso madi-dismiss dahil napakahina ng ebidensya,” Gatchalian lamented.
He noted that to date criminal charges filed in connection with the case was only against a certain Anoche Dee, who is merely the caretaker of one of the warehouses where the illegal drug shipment was found.
More worrisome, according to Gatchalian, is that since no criminal charges have been filed to date against Richard Chen, the owner of the warehouse where the bulk of the shabu was found, he could have already fled the country.
Gatchalian noted that Chen was invited in Monday’s hearing but he did not show up.
“Maaring nakaalis na siya, dahil wala tayong warrant?” Gatchalian said. NBI lawyer Dennis Siyhian, who took part in the raid, admitted that such a scenario is possible.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas also chided the NBI and BOC for failing to file charges against Chen. Fariñas noted that since the bulk of the drugs were found in Chen’s warehouse, he has constructive possession of the drugs and should have been treated as a principal suspect under the law.
“You should have handcuffed him already,” Fariñas said.
Siyhian admitted that initially he considered Chen a suspect but the BOC told him later that Chen was the informant of the BOC.
Not only did the NBI and BOC fail to arrest Chen immediately, Fariñas said the NBI was even clueless about the real citizenship of Chen until now.
Meanwhile, solons also said the BOC could be liable for various offenses, including technical malversation, falsification of public documents, and usurpation of public authority in connection with BOC’s hiring of 28 athletes as technical assistants purportedly assigned for intelligence work.
Rep. Vicente Veloso noted that the athletes were hired without the public bidding required under the law. He chided Faeldon for running the BOC as if it is his own private company.
Fariñas also warned Atty. Mandy Anderson, chief of staff of Faeldon, that she could be liable for falsification of public documents and usurpation of public authority.
Anderson admitted she was authorized by Faeldon to sign the daily time record of the athletes hired by the bureau.
However, former Philippine Basketball Association stars Kenneth Duremdes, Marlou Aquino and EJ Feihl said they do not actually report to the bureau. Neither were they trained for intelligence work, according to the athletes.
Fariñas noted that the DTR is a public document and if Anderson made it appear the athletes reported for work when they did not is tantamount to falsification of public documents.
The Majority Leader also said that since Anderson is not a government official, as indicated in her contract with the BOC, she is also likely liable for usurpation of public office, since she is performing the functions of a public servant.
“But you are a young lawyer, we will not go after you,” Fariñas said.