CUSTOMS Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon confronted Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th at the Senate on Tuesday, accusing him of “peddling stories” against him in connection with the smuggling of shabu worth P6.4 billion as Malacañang said the President will not sack the Customs chief.
Faeldon and Trillanes faced off during the continuation of the investigation on the smuggling of P6.4-billion shabu from China by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon.
Trillanes, who earlier claimed that Faeldon is at the “heart of the controversy,” was the first senator to question Faeldon, asking if there was corruption at the Customs bureau. Faeldon refused to answer.
“The preposterous stories peddled by you are all over the news the past few days. I do not want to further justify your baseless accusation by answering your question,” he said.
Trillanes warned the former Marine captain “to act properly” or he will be cited for contempt.
Gordon had to act as referee between the two former soldiers, who plotted to oust former president Gloria Arroyo in 2003. He directed Faeldon to answer Trillanes’ question.
“If you have issues with each other don’t bring it here. Just answer the question of Sen. Trillanes,” Gordon said.
But Faeldon still refused to answer, saying Trillanes had prejudged him.
“He’d been peddling stories all over the news that he’s already come up with incredible, baseless accusations against me and other people. So it’s pointless to answer these questions because he has already come up with conclusions,” he said.
Gordon was forced to call for a brief recess to talk to Faeldon.
The Customs chief finally admitted that corruption exists at the bureau, citing the so-called “tara” or payola system. He claimed that he was not able to address it for lack of trusted personnel who could conduct an investigation into the illegal activities at the agency.
Customs broker Mike Taguba earlier testified that several employees received “bribe money” in exchange for the swift release of shipments.
“The people I have worked with there are the people that I suspect doing this ‘tara.’ So, how can I designate them to be the ones conducting the investigation? Everybody said that this tara system has been there ever since and here’s a new commissioner who has no teammate with him for six months. How can he investigate this?” Faeldon said.
“I did not ask, I did not accept a single centavo while I’m at the Bureau of Customs,” he added.
At the Palace, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said President Rodrigo Duterte will not fire Faeldon despite the recommendation of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs chaired by Rep. Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte.
“The President will wait for the report of both chambers of Congress before deciding how to best address the issue,” Abella said.
Faeldon’s deputies—Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service Director Neil Anthony Estrella and Customs Import Assessment Service Director Milo Maestrecampo has resigned last week.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI