Senate probe on P6.4-B shabu 'misled'

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — Two senators on Thursday accused a customs fixer of misleading the Senate investigation into the smuggling of P6.4-billion shabu from China.

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon and Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto said 26-year-old Mark Taguba was relating to the committee details that were not included in his sworn affidavit.

"Nililigaw mo kami dito, eh (You are misleading us here)," Gordon told Taguba.

Sotto agreed, saying Taguba shifted the Senate's attention from the 604-kilo shabu shipment to the alleged "tara" or payoff system at the Bureau of Customs, naming various officials and aliases who supposedly took bribe money.

"Pilit mong kinakaila na kasama ka dun sa 604 kilos 'tas ngayon kung sinu-sino naman kinakaladkad mo. Pati 'yung kwento niyo, ligaw. Kaya nangyayari talaga naliligaw yung intent ng committee," Sotto told Taguba.

(Translation: "You vehemently denied involvement in the 604-kilo shipment but now you are dragging names. Even your stories have no direction, so the committee's intent was also misled.")

Gordon suspected Taguba was deliberately keeping senators from discovering that the shabu actually came from his containers. This is a claim Taguba has repeatedly denied.

"Dahilan ba ay yung nangyari yung mga container box mo e dala-dala yung droga kaya nililigaw mo kasi dun sa pagbibigay ng tara sa iba?" Gordon said.

(Translation: Are you trying to misguide us because the drugs came from your container boxes, so you shifted the focus to the giving of tara?)

Taguba denied the senator's accusations, saying he was just answering questions about the alleged corruption at the BOC. 

Taguba denied involvement in the smuggling of drugs from China, but went on to name Customs officials and individuals with aliases he has allegedly been paying off to ease the release of his shipments. He has said he pays up to P27,000 per container as grease money for customs officials.

Gordon: Taguba, Abellera lying

During Thursday's Senate probe, Gordon pressed Taguba to reveal details of his supposed January 16, 2017 meeting in Davao City where he brought a blue Lacoste bag containing P5 million cash to be given to Davao City Councilor Nilo "Small" Abellera, Jr.

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

Abellera is the alleged bagman of presidential son Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, whom Taguba said was behind the so-called "Davao Group." Taguba said the group, which also involved Mans Carpio – husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte – had been asking brokers for bribes to hasten the release of shipments from the BOC.

Abellera attended the hearing for the first time after previously calling in sick. He admitted to meeting Taguba and a certain "Jack" at Casa de Amigos, a restobar in Davao City, but he denied receiving P5 million from anyone.

Both Taguba and Abellera denied knowing the surname and whereabouts of "Jack," the alleged "handler" of the Vice Mayor.

But Gordon is not convinced. "Palagay ko pareho kayong nagsisinungaling (I think you are both lying)," he said.

"Ang sabi mo (You said) you met casually a certain Jack. Is it your habit na pagka may tumawag sa iyong tao na hindi mo alam ang family name, pupunta ka kaagad dun sa restaurant para makipag-usap sa kanya (Is it your habit to meet someone whose family name you do not even know then you will immediately go tom a restaurant to talk to him)?" Gordon asked Abellera.

Abellera said he had nothing to do that day, so he granted "Jack's" request.

Earlier during the hearing, tension rose between Gordon and Senator Antonio Trillanes after the latter moved for the committee to summon Paolo Duterte and Mans Carpio to the next hearing.

Gordon took offense at Trillanes' statements that unlike Duterte and Carpio who were being treated as "sacred cows," the senators were badgering the witnesses.

Trillanes also said the blue ribbon committee is becoming a "committee de absuwelto," or a body absolving the accused of wrongdoing, prompting Gordon to announce at the hearing that he is filing a complaint against Trillanes before the ethics committee.

Also read: Gordon to file ethics complaint vs. Trillanes after clash at Senate