It’s the 11th Senate hearing on Customs corruption, yet no one has seen alleged bribe broker Jojo Bacud

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BOC with logo
The Bureau of Customs building, with its logo (inset). INTERAKSYON FILE

MANILA – Who’s Jojo Bacud and where in the world is he? The question arose Wednesday at the 11th Senate blue ribbon hearing on corruption at the Bureau of Customs, after Senate probers asked the law enforcement agencies why the name of the alleged big-time “fixer” keeps cropping up and yet he cannot be found to testify.

NBI Deputy Director for Investigative Services Vicente de Guzman III recalled that in the last Senate hearing, their agency was instructed to effect the arrest Bacud, and they formed two teams: one in Manila and another in Solano, Cagayan.

The NBI, de Guzman reported, made the return of warrant informing the blue ribbon panel that Bacud was nowhere in the said addresses provided to them, both the provincial and Manila addresses.

The team from Manila is still waging a manhunt on Bacud, whose name was mentioned in past hearings by Customs player-whistleblower Mark Ruben Taguba as one of those who had sought millions from him, on behalf supposedly of top Customs officials, to lift alert orders on certain shipments.

Alleged ‘bagman’

At the same hearing, CIIS Staff May Esqueto testified that BOC official Joel Pinawin ordered her three times (April 5, 21, and May 5) to contact Mark Taguba and to collect money meant for him and Director Neil Estrella, the CIIS chief.

She, or her husband at times, collected the money, Esqueto told Senate probers.

Esqueto said Pinawin got her simcard on August 8 and gave her money to buy another simcard.

Pinawin denied giving such orders, saying that May, her husband Ricky Carvajal alyas Tisoy, and Mark Taguba conspired against him.

Lahat ng sinabi ni May puro kasinungalinan [all they said are lies],” Pinawin said.

Estrella also denied Esqueto’s allegations.

” I categorically deny that I received any money from Mark Taguba….Also with May [Esqueto], I did not receive money nor give instruction to collect from me,” Estrella said.

Tax credit certificates: skimmed for ‘pasalubong’?

Retired general Isidro Lapena, who replaced Nicanor Faeldon as Customs commissioner, said he received information from “concerned” BOC staff that the source of the so-called “pasalubong” for newly designated commissioners are funds taken by unscrupulous customs personnel from businesses claiming tax credits.

“When I was asked during a presscon, I said I have not received pasalubong… I was thinking there was no such thing. But two, three weeks ago I started receiving bundles of orders for tax credit certificates. I signed this as it comes to my table. It is legitimate. I signed it then released to those who processed it. Every week thereafter another week, third week. There were the same bundles of tax credit certificates. Last week, the concerned personnel
came to my office and told me that it is the source of the pasalubong,” Lapeña told senators.

He added that “when I learned about it, I immediately recalled the tax credit certificates.”

Atty. Maria Sebastian, who once headed the BOC’s tax credits secretariat, explained that TCCs are refunds that are used to pay businesses in cases of excess duties. However, she disagree with Lapeña the certificates are the source of pasalubong in BOC.

‘Change’ hijacked

Ruben Taguba, a retired Customs policeman who is the father of Mark, meanwhile recalled to senators an encounter he once had with then-commissioner Faeldon, who he said told him he wanted genuine change at the graft-ridden agency. They talked for five and a half hours.

He said he identified to Faeldon the areas and individuals in BOC which were asking for money.

After the exchange, he was never consulted anymore, and subsequently learned the “tara” had continued.

“After two months nabago sitwasyon. Nagkaroon na ng tara [the situation changed. Tara was back],” he said.

Kinilala lang yung players. Actually humingi lang sa akin ng advice. Wala na akong narinig. Nalaman ko na lang na may tarahan na [They just sought the identities of players. They just asked me for advice. I heard nothing more from them. I just learned that ‘tara’ had returned].”

He asserted that “tara” exists or is not pursued depending on the signal sent by the incumbent Customs chief.

“Alam ng agent ‘yan kapag hindi pumayag ang commissioner walang magtatara sa ibaba. Proven na ‘yan.”
With a report from Camille Aguinaldo, InterAksyon