THE SENATE blue-ribbon committee on Tuesday, Aug. 29, resumed its inquiry on the P6.4 billion worth of shabu illegally shipped into the country late last May, with an opposition senator focusing his questions on the possible involvement of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s family, including a son-in-law, in customs operations.
Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV, taking his turn at the inquiry, grilled Bureau of Customs (BoC) deputy commissioner Gerardo O. Gambala and former Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director Neil Anthony L. Estrella regarding the alleged visits of lawyer Manases R. Carpio, husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, and Davao Vice-Mayor Paolo Z. Duterte at the BoC.
Mr. Gambala denied ever seeing the vice-mayor in the BoC premises. For his part, Mr. Estrella said he once “chanced upon” Mr. Carpio stepping out of now-resigned Customs Commissioner Nicanor E. Faeldon’s office, but was unfamiliar with the purpose of that visit.
Mr. Trillanes nevertheless said: “This confirms my information na hindi lamang si Paolo ang umeeksena o pumapapel dito sa operasyon ng Customs kung hindi maging si Mans Carpio na rin, so family affair na ito ng Pamilya Duterte.” (This confirms my information that it is not only Paolo but Mans Carpio is also involved in customs operations, so this is a family affair by the Duterte family.)The senator also alleged that, according to his sources, Mr. Duterte was there on two occasions.
“They don’t have any business sa Bureau of Customs except mag-aayos talaga sila, mag-e-exert sila ng influence at mage-endorse sila ng tao, so ganun ‘yun e,” Mr. Trillanes also said. (They don’t have any business in the Bureau of Customs except for arranging deals, exerting influence and endorsing people, so that’s how it is.)
The senator also claimed that Messrs. Carpio and the younger Duterte are involved in allowing questionable shipments to pass through Customs with a “no-look fee.”
“Ganun ‘yung transaction. So lahat ‘yan nagmamano sila lahat kay Paolo Duterte,” Mr. Trillanes also claimed. (That’s how the transactions go. They all seek Paolo Duterte’s blessings.)
On questioning, Mr. Trillanes said he will soon bring in witnesses (“Darating tayo d’yan”).
Mr. Carpio, responding on social media, said, “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.”
At Malacañang also on Tuesday, President Duterte reaffirmed anew that he will resign if his children are proven to be involved in corruption.
For his part, the committee chairman, Senator Richard J. Gordon, said Mr. Trillanes “should produce evidence. I can’t just call anybody here.”
Mr. Gordon also said the focus should be on the source of the illegal drugs, which is China, as he suggested a “Chinese conspiracy” and said the Chinese government should cooperate with the committee’s investigation.
Asked if he had a specific request to the Chinese government, he said: “Dalhin ‘yung Tong Yang Ping. Sino pa ‘yung nandoon na nahuli nila? Sino ‘yung mga taong alam nilang pinagdadalhan ng droga?” (Bring Tong Yang Ping. Tell us the names of those apprehended there. Who are the people they know are trafficking in drugs?)
Others invited to the hearing were Mr. Faeldon, his chief of staff lawyer Mandy Anderson, Davao City Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera Jr., and Col. Allen Capuyan.
Mr. Abellera, who is alleged to be a member of the Davao Group smuggling racket, begged off from Tuesday’s hearing. In a letter to the committee dated Aug. 28, he cited a medical condition as explained in a medical certificate attached to his letter.
Mr. Abellera asked that he be allowed to attend the hearings scheduled this Thursday, Aug. 31, and on Sept. 4. He also sent an affidavit stating he had “no knowledge, let alone any participation, on the shipment of shabu from China.” He acknowledged meeting with broker Mark Ruben G. Taguba II in Davao and a certain “Jack,” but declined their request to arrange a meeting with the younger Mr. Duterte.
“Knowing that the Vice Mayor does not involve himself with such matters, I politely told Jack that I could not arrange such meeting,” went Mr. Abellera’s affidavit.
Also on Tuesday, the Department of Finance issued a letter of commendation by Finance Secretary Ccarlos G. Dominguez citing Mr. Faeldon’s “impeccable character, honesty, sincerity and strong leadership.”
“In the brief time that you served as the Bureau of Customs (BoC) Commissioner, you have proven to be a man of unquestionable integrity,” went Mr. Dominguez’s letter dated Aug.22 which noted further that “Through your unwavering dedication and perseverance, the country’s second biggest revenue collection agency exceeded its collection targets…”
“More significantly, with the BoC’s initiative, rigorous investigative work and effective law enforcement on your watch, we were able to catch the biggest instance of tax fraud in Philippine history,” the letter also read, adding:
“You have also made a tremendous effort in meeting head-on the enormous challenge of cleansing the bureau of corrupt employees. Under your leadership, transparency and accountability began to be the norm in the BoC.”
“You have my trust and confidence. I look forward to working with you again in the future.” — Mario M. Banzon