FORMER Customs officials led by Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon showed up at the Justice department Thursday for the preliminary investigation of the criminal charges filed against them by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency arising from the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu in May.
Faeldon sought the outright dismissal of the complaint against him, arguing that the Justice department had no jurisdiction over the case.
Former Customs Investigation and Intelligence Service chief Neil Anthony Estrella also appeared at the hearing and vowed to disprove PDEA’s allegations.
He also took the opportunity to assail the camp of Mark Taguba for presenting what he described as a “fake witness” before the Senate inquiry on Wednesday.
Faeldon said the Office of the Ombudsman had no jurisdiction to investigate the charges against him because he had a salary grade higher than salary grade 27.
He said that since his post as Customs commissioner had a salary grade 30, the case should fall within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman under the Sandiganbayan law.
"We want the cases to be filed at the right forum because later on, if the regional trial court will dismiss this complaint because of lack of jurisdiction, it will be wasted, Faeldon told reporters after the hearing.
But he welcomed the filing of the criminal charges by PDEA, saying it would give them an opportunity to clear themselves.
“We are confident that these charges will be dismissed because these are impossible allegations,” Faeldon said.
“They accuse us of conspiring to import drugs. How could anyone do that in four hours?”
Estrella said May Escoto, who claimed before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Tuesday that she had received payoffs or "tara'' funds from Customs fixer Mark Taguba for Estrella and CIIS Acting Division Chief Joel Pinawin, was “a fake witness” with close ties to Taguba.
“She [Escoto] is a fake witness with close ties to the Taguba camp who they unleashed to destroy the credibility of the CIIS officials responsible for the drug raid,” Estrella said.
“I know she is a BoC employee but she is not under my office. I have not talked to her since I’m busy most of the days and I have never given her any instruction.”
Estrella said they will file perjury, libel and other criminal cases against Taguba and Escoto because of their false testimonies against them.
He said Escoto was the common-law wife of Ricky Carvajal, a bodyguard of the Tagubas and a columnist in the Customs News newspaper.
He showed copies of the Taguba newspaper and photos from the couple’s Facebook page to prove the couple’s affiliation with the Tagubas.
“This proves that May Escoto and Ricky Carvajal are surrogates of the Tagubas who have been peddling fake news to get Mark Taguba off the hook,” Estrella said.
Escoto told the Senate inquiry that she had received pay-offs from Taguba for Estrella and CIIS Acting Division Chief Joel Pinawin.
She claimed that she brought money placed inside two brown envelopes from Taguba in three separate occasions on the orders of Pinawin, who has denied the allegations.
Faeldon and Estrella are two of the 12 former Customs officials charged by PDEA with conspiracy to import illegal drugs and protecting or coddling drug traffickers.