Trillanes links Duterte son, son-in-law to 'Davao Group'

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Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV (file photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 29) — Sen. Antonio Trillanes on Tuesday tagged President Rodrigo Duterte's son and son-in-law as the big players in the alleged "Davao Group" involved in corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Trillanes said he has witnesses to prove both Duterte family members had been spotted at the Customs Bureau.

"I will be presenting witnesses, Mr. Chairman, to attest to the veracity of that information na pumunta diyan si Paolo Duterte and si Mans Carpio," he said at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the P6.4 billion drug shipment from China.

The senator said he'll present his witnesses in due time.

In an interview after the hearing, Trillanes said the vice mayor was seen twice in the BOC, while Carpio was seen 5 times in 2016 and 2017.

"Yung Davao group itong grupo na nagmamaneobra para mailabas yung mga shipment na undervalued yung kanyang mga declarations, ang nasa likod nito si Paolo Duterte. Etong si Mans Carpio meron siyang sariling transaksyon," he said.

[Translation: Paolo Duterte is behind this Davao group-- this group that operates so shipments will be released with undervalued operations. This Mans Carpio, he has his own transaction. ]

"Alam niyo very sensitive yang Customs. Pagka member ka ng isang influential family in this case eh they're the first family you stay away from that area dahil talagang wala nang ibang iisipin."

[Translation: You know, Customs is very sensitive. If you're a member of an influential family-- in this case, they're the first family, you stay away from that area because they really won't think anything else.]

Trillanes also questioned Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala of the Customs Command Center and Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service Director Neil Estrella on the alleged visits to the BOC.

Estrella said he had not seen the vice mayor at the bureau but had seen Mans Carpio, Davao City mayor Sara Duterte's husband.

"I just came down from my office and I chanced upon him going out of the office of the commissioner at that time your honor," he said.

Gambala denied having any knowledge of the alleged visits.

In a statement, Carpio said he has many clients at the BOC and said his visits were merely part of his job.

"It is my job as a lawyer to appear before government agencies for and on behalf of my principals. Senator Trillanes is imputing malice in saying that my appearance before the BOC is because of smuggling," he said.

Presidential son Paolo Duterte was linked to Customs corruption at the Senate hearing on Aug. 7 after Customs fixer Mark Taguba said his name was being dropped at the bureau.

In the Aug. 22 hearing, Taguba claimed he had given an alleged P5 million to the "Davao Group" claiming to be connected to the vice mayor in order to ease the movement of shipments through Customs.

READ: Customs fixer: I was asked P5M to meet Paolo Duterte

Davao Councilor skips hearing, denies charges

Meanwhile Davao City Councilor and alleged "Davao Group" member Nilo "Small" Abellera, Jr. and Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon were no-shows at the hearing.

The two, along with Faeldon's Chief of Staff, Mandy Anderson were subpoenaed to attend the next hearing on August 31.

Taguba earlier said he had handed Abellera the P5 million in cash after Abellera claimed he was representing Paolo Duterte.

In a letter sent to the Senate, alleged "Davao Group" member Abellera said he is recovering from hypertension and will attend the next Senate hearing.

He also sent an affidavit denying any connection to the drug shipment.

"I hereby state that I have no knowledge, let alone any participation, on the shipment of shabu from China," Abellera said in his affidavit.

In his affidavit, Abellera denied knowing a "Tita Nani," who Taguba said was a member of the group.

He did however, say he has met a "Jack," who Taguba told Senate was Duterte's supposed handler.

Abellera said "Jack" had requested for a meeting with him. When they met, Jack asked Abellera if he could arrange a meeting between Paolo Duterte and a customs broker who turned out to be Taguba.

Abellera said he declined knowing the vice mayor would not involve himself in such transactions. He said he has not interacted with Taguba since.

Senate questions Chinese nationals

Senate also questioned Chinese nationals Richard Tan and Manny Li  on how the shabu was sought from China.

Tan is the owner of the warehouse where the P6.4 billion shabu haul was seized, while Li is his alleged middleman.

Gordon said the Senate is asking Beijing to send a representative to the next hearing.

The senator notes the country might need to review ties with China because of this incident.

"I demand that they clarify this," he said.