MANILA, Philippines – Customs “fixer” Mark Ruben Taguba II has linked presidential son Paolo “Pulong” Duterte to the Davao Group that allegedly facilitates the release of cargoes at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in exchange for regular grease money or tara from importers.
On Tuesday, August 22, during the continuation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s investigation into corrupt activities at the BOC, which enabled smugglers to ship 604 kilos of shabu into the country, Taguba testified that it was a certain “Tita Nani,” a member of the group, who told him that the Davao vice mayor’s alleged transactions with the BOC were being handled by a certain “Jack,” another member of the Davao Group.
Taguba, the broker involved in the shipment to the Philippines of P6.4-billion worth of shabu from China, which found its way via BOC’s express lane, said during the Senate inquiry that it was a certain Jojo Bacud, who claimed to be working with the BOC’s Special Studies and Project Development Committee, who referred him to Tita Nani after Bacud failed to help Taguba release his other shipments.
Taguba further testified that Tita Nani, whom he said he first met at a shopping mall in Quezon City, assured him that the Davao Group would help him release his cargoes from the BOC in exchange for a one-time “enrollment fee” of P5 million.
Also, during the hearing, Taguba read a text message, which he said came from Tita Nani, telling him about his transaction with Jack, the person who deals with the BOC allegedly in behalf of Paolo or “Pulong,” the vice mayor’s nickname.
“Good am, final arrangement with Jack. He is the handler of Paolo. Now, we have to advance the (enrollment fee). He can fly to Davao to arrange a meeting with Pulong asap,” read the January 11, 2017 text that supposedly was sent by Tita Nani to Taguba.
In the same month, after Tita Nani’s text, Tugaba said he only met with Jack and another alleged Davao Group member, “Small,” but not with Paolo at a restaurant in Davao City for him to pay the P5 million. Taguba earlier testified that he had no personal knowledge about Paolo’s alleged dealings with the Davao Group.
After paying for his “enrollment,” Taguba said he continued giving to the Davao Group grease money worth P10,000 per container or about P1 million weekly for 100 containers, which Jack collected every Friday each time he flew to Manila.
Taguba said the regular tara he gave to the group made it easier for him to release his cargoes without being flagged by the BOC.
Taguba links councilor to Davao Group
During the Senate hearing, Taguba also testified that the Small he was referring to and had met at a Davao restaurant with Jack is Davao Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera Jr.
Abellera was invited to attend the Senate hearing but failed to show up because of hypertension.
Abellera was the chairperson of the Davao Sangguniang Panlungsod’s Committee on Trade, Commerce and Industry and member of Davao’s Investment Incentive Board when President Rodrigo Duterte was the city’s vice mayor.
Under the current mayorship of Sara Duterte-Carpio, Abellara was elected as the Davao City Council’s chair of the Committee on Peace and Public Safety and vice chairman of the Committee on Barangay Affairs and Committee on Public Works and Highways.
Abellara was also reportedly among the seven Davao councilors who like Sara had their heads shaved in October 2015 to support the presidential bid of then city mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
On Tuesday, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV released photos of Abellera and Paolo Duterte together, claiming the two had close ties.
Paolo dimisses Taguba’s testimony
Earlier, Paolo downplayed Taguba’s testimony.
“Taguba admitted that his testimony against me was based entirely on rumors. Why would we entertain or believe a hearsay? One does not dignify lies with a response,” the vice mayor said in a statement sent to reporters.
The vice mayor also challenged his accusers to a file case against him.
Also, earlier this month, President Duterte vowed to quit his post if it would be proven that any of his children had illegal dealings with BOC personnel.
Allegations vs Paolo
It wasn’t the first time that Paolo’s name was dragged into the alleged smuggling activities at the BOC.
In April 2016, Perfecto Tagalog of the Coalition of Filipino Consumers alleged that “Davao City is a smugglers’ haven because it’s (then) Mayor Duterte’s son himself who is the lord of the smugglers.”
According to Tagalog, a 2007 report by the National Bureau of Investigation and the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) indicated that Paolo was allegedly involved in smuggling activities.
“Intelligence information…[indicated] that a certain Glen Escandor, son of Col. [Emilio D.] Escandor and owner of Mandaya Hotel, and Paolo Duterte aka Polong, son of Mayor Duterte of Davao City, are business partners in smuggling activities and are responsible in the proliferation of smuggled Sub-Urban Vehicles and high-end cars in the area,” the Dec. 7, 2007 PSG report signed by Rosauro Bautista, PASG team leader 2, stated.
“These activities are being undertaken without any arrest or apprehension by concerned government agencies due to the alleged power and influence of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the father of Paolo,” the report added.
Peter Lavina, then Mayor Duterte’s media bureau chief, dismissed Tagalog’s allegation as black propaganda against the city chief, who joined the presidential race.
“They should have filed cases long ago. Why raise the issue now?” Lavina said.
Matobato, Lascañas’ testimonies vs Paolo
In September 2016, confessed Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato testified before the Senate Committee on justice and Human Rights also linked Paolo to alleged smuggling operations in Davao City, claiming he had once delivered P3 million in payola for customs officers for the vice mayor at the Sasa Wharf in 2013 – an allegation that was also denied by Paolo.
“(President Duterte) is angry at smugglers but he doesn’t know that his son handles smuggling rice and oil in Davao City,” said Matobato.
In March 2017, during an inquiry by the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, retired Davao police officer Arturo Lascañas also claimed that Paolo was allegedly involved in smuggling activities.
Lascañas testified that either in 2012 or 2013, Paolo asked him to help in fast-tracking the shipment of a 40-foot container from China after its transport to Davao was delayed for some months.
Inside the container were supposedly furniture items for Paolo’s residence.
According to Lascañas, a certain Davao-based trader Charlie Tan, whom Paolo allegedly met in China, asked that Paolo’s container be inserted with “souvenirs.” He said Paolo suspected that shabu had been placed in the cargo.
Paolo then allegedly asked Lascañas to escort the container van until it arrives at the covered court in Barangay Catalunan, Davao City.
The supposed plan was to open the van upon arrival and for Lascañas and other authorities to immediately arrest Tan, who according to Lascañas owned a karaoke bar in Ecoland, Davao City and was known in the city to have links to the narcotics trade.
However, when the delivery arrived, Lascañas alleged that Paolo called him up and told him that he would arbor Tan, which meant that he would take responsibility for the businessman.
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