Witness bares Customs payola

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CORRUPTION is very much alive in the Bureau of Customs despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s warning to the officialdom that he won’t tolerate even a whiff or a whisper of wrongdoing in government.

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At the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the P6.4 billion shabu shipment from China, customs facilitator Mark Ruben Taguba disclosed to senators the various fees he had to pay just to expedite the release of his cargoes.

GREASE MONEY CUSTOMS Sen. Richard Gordon (left photo, right) shows a list of names of Customs officials to witness Mark Taguba, who exposed how grease money is divvied up at the corruption-prone bureau. Businessmen Kenneth Dong (right photo) and Richard Chen (middle photo), allegedly behind the importation of P6.4 billion worth of shabu in May, were cited in contempt and jailed by the Senate for their contradicting testimonies. PHOTOS BY BOB DUNGO JR.

Aside from legal fees totaling P81,000 per container, he said he also had to shell out another P27,000 to P30,000 to make sure the release of a shipment would proceed smoothly. The government did not get a single centavo from the extra fees, he said.

Taguba enumerated the offices he needed to bribe:
• Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group (AOCG), P7,500;
• Intelligence Group, P2,000;
• Import Assessment Service (IAS), P10,000;
• Customs collector, P3,000;
• X-ray section, 1,000;
• Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS), P500;
• Enforcement and Security Service (ESS), P500; and
• Pier Inspection Division (PID) P200.

Taguba, whom customs personnel called a “player” or fly-by-night broker, also named several individuals he believed benefited from grease money: Joel Pinawin, director of the CIIS, Teddy Sagaral, district head of the CIIS, Maita Acevedo, and Nannie Co of the IAS.

Also, persons named “Jojo” from the ESS, “Sandra” and “Alfred,” “Jason” from X-ray, and “Jake.”

He said that in most cases, he just gave the money to his messenger who would meet with the messenger of customs personnel and hand over the “payoffs.”

While he maintained that the 604 kilos of shabu from China was not with his cargoes that arrived in May, chances were it was released smoothly because of grease money.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the blue ribbon committee, ordered Edward Dy Buco of the AOCG to provide the Senate panel a complete list of regular, contractual and job-order Customs personnel to verify Taguba’s claims.

The controversial shabu shipment from China went to Richard Chen, owner of Hong Fei Logistics that operates warehouses.

Persistent corruption

Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano also on Wednesday questioned the capability of customs and port officials to keep illegal shipments out.

He said the entry of the huge shabu shipment “raise into question the competence of our border protection and regulation.”

“The issue obviously requires an evaluation of the Bureau of Customs in whole. Corruption in the bureau has been a persistent and lingering issue. It is high time to address this and improve the system to strengthen border protection,” Alejano said during the parallel inquiry held at the House of Representatives.

Alejano also criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for his failure to nudge “his friends” in China to cooperate in solving the transnational problem on illegal drug.

“It should be noted that the shipment also managed to get away from Chinese authorities. Why was the shipment not intercepted right away at the very source? It is not a new knowledge that China is one of the major sources of illegal drugs, as also declared by PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency),” he said.

Chinese businessmen face drug charges

Chen, who owned the warehouse where the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China was confiscated, could be held liable for violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act for importing the illegal substance.

“That act of importing dangerous drugs itself is a criminal offense, never mind the chain of custody, never mind if there is warrant, but importation per se, and we only have to rely on documents to prove importation of dangerous drugs and you just imported dangerous drugs,” Sen Panfilo Lacson told Chen.

Chen during the hearing denied knowledge about the shipment and said he only learned about it when China Customs officials notified him that the shipment from China contained suspicious items.

In his affidavit, Chen claimed he was also told that suspects behind the illegal shipment have been caught in China, but was unsure if the drugs arrived in the Philippines.

Using a translator, Chen also told the senators he did not know Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and only met him on May 25, the day after the illegal shipment arrived in his warehouse.

Chen was identified by Taguba, during the previous blue ribbon hearing, as the owner of Hong Fei, a company that consolidates shipments from China and has a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

Apart from Chen, the committee also invited Manny Li, or Li Guang Feng, who brokered the shipment.

Contempt

Chen and Li were cited for contempt by the Senate committee for lying during the inquiry, because of inconsistencies in their statements about a packing list for the shipment.

It was learned during the hearing that the shipment’s original packing list had 14 items, including a cylinder where the packets of shabu were supposedly hidden.

The list came from Chen and was passed to Li before it was given to another businessman, Kenneth Dong, an alleged middleman. But the contents of the list were later changed and the cylinders were omitted, senators found.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd moved to hold the two in contempt until they straighten out their stories.
Chen and Li were placed under the custody of the Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and will be transferred to the Pasay City Jail once their commitment order is signed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd.

With James Konstantin Galvez

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