Lacson bares ‘double tara’ scheme at Customs

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THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) under the watch of Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon came up with a system that collected “tara” or payoffs more than once, Sen. Panfilo Lacson revealed Monday.

At the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation into anomalies at the bureau, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that aside from the usual payoffs given by brokers to have their shipments clear the “green lane,” a special stop order could also be issued by the Office of the Commissioner to prevent the release of the shipment.

GREASE MONEY Customs ‘fixer’ Mark Taguba details the expenses needed to release containers at the Bureau of Customs during the tenure of Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

“After giving payola (payoffs) to access the green lane, another payoff will be made for the lifting of the special stop order,” Lacson said.

Faeldon, who is detained at the Senate but refuses to take part in the probe, has denied the existence of the “tara” system, which was revealed by Lacson in a privilege speech on August 23.

Lacson said the special stop order was introduced during Faeldon’s stint at customs and could only be issued by the commissioner.

Arnel Alcaraz, a customs collector, told the committee the special stop order was a discretionary power of the commissioner.

Liza Sebastian, a collector assigned at the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service, also noted that special stop orders were issued to prevent the release of shipments even after duties and taxes were paid.

“A special alert order can still be issued even after the lifting of the alert order if violations were found, upon the recommendation of any of the alerting units,” Sebastian said.

Alerting units include the deputy commissioner for the bureau’s intelligence group and the deputy commissioner for enforcement.

Lacson said a certain Michael Saban, a technical consultant at the office of Faeldon, was able to issue a number special stop orders on several shipments, which were approved by the commissioner.

Lacson asked Sebastian if a technical consultant like Saban was authorized to recommend or issue special stop orders. The latter said he was not.

The senator then asked Customs command center head Gerardo Gambala as to why Saban was allowed to make recommendations.

“That was what I did not understand with the status of Michael Saban, because he was a technical consultant,” Gambala said.

Saban was mentioned by customs “fixer” Mark Taguba during one of the Senate hearings as the one who flagged his shipment, forcing him to look for a more “influential” contact, which led him to seek the help of the so-called Davao group.

P92 million ‘tara’

Also during the hearing, Taguba told the committee that he spent as much as P92 million to bribe Customs officials to make sure that his shipment would be released without encountering any problem.

Taguba presented before the committee records of his bank withdrawals, call logs and text messages between him and his contacts at Customs.

In one of the slides in his presentation, Taguba indicated that he paid P489,600 or P27,200 per container for the 18 containers of EMT Trading that arrived on March 27 to 31 and April 3 to 7.

He also showed records of withdrawals he made during the periods from two banks, to pay for shipment fees and payoffs.

“That is only for my transaction with EMT but if we include my other transactions thetara could reach P5 million,” Taguba said.

Apart from the EMT containers, Taguba also facilitated the release of 189 containers of his other clients, with payoffs amounting to P5,140,800.

He said the payoffs were given to various offices at Customs including the internal affairs service, intelligence group, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS), and even the x-ray section.

Taguba also showed text messages from personnel of the offices asking for the payoffs, namely “Mae” the collector for CIIS, a certain “Jojo” for the Special Studies and Project Development Committee, Joel Pinawin for the intelligence division, Teddy Sagaral for the CIIS district office, and two others named “Gerry” and “Jake.”

Taguba likewise presented calls logs and text exchanges between him and “Tita Nanie,” and a certain “Winnie.”
Pinawin told senators that he knew a certain Mae working at the CIIS, but denied giving instructions to collect money for him and Estrella.

Lacson in an interview after the hearing said the presentation of Taguba had probative value because it came from his own cellular phone, which was subjected to forensic examination by the Philippine National Police.

As for the involvement of Faeldon, Lacson said there was a text message about the P10,000 payoff per container for the Office of the Commissioner.

“If you’re the commissioner and somebody is collecting P10,000 per container for you, I don’t know who is more believable,” added Lacson.

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