CUSTOMS broker and self-confessed “fixer” Mark Ruben Taguba, told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Thursday he paid a total of P8 million to the Davao Group, in which Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and his brother-in-law Manases Carpio were alleged to be in.
Taguba said he was referred to a certain “Tita Nanie,” allegedly a member of the Davao group, by Jojo Bacud, a friend of Taguba’s father, who was formerly with the Customs police.
According to Taguba, he paid an initial P1 million to a certain “Jack,” the supposed “handler” of Duterte, before he went to Davao City to meet with “Small” last January.
As a sidelight to Taguba’s statement, tension erupted as staunch allies of President Rodrigo Duterte and opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV traded barbs over the “invite” to Paolo Duterte and Carpio in the P6.4-billion shabu shipment hearing by the Blue Ribbon committee, referred to by Trillanes as “commite de absuelto.”
Trillanes later identified “Small” as Davao City councilor Nilo Abellera Jr. Taguba also identified Abellera as “Small” during the hearing.
Taguba said he was fetched by “Jack” upon his arrival at the Davao City airport and brought to a Davao resto-bar where they met Abellera and personally handed to him the P5-million “enrollment fee” to facilitate his shipment at the BoC.
According to Taguba, his shipment was put on alert at the BoC after his father Rudy had a fight with a certain Mike Sabban, technical consultant of former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
After the meeting, Taguba said he was brought by Jack to Marco Polo Hotel where he stayed overnight and waited for the call from Jack who informed him that Abellera had apprehensions about dealing with him.
“[He said he would just facilitate the release. He said I would just add P2 million and then he would just call me up when I could return,]” he said in Filipino.
Taguba said he gave Jack P2 million. “They were saying it’s for Pulong. They’re saying Pulong is Paolo Duterte,” but admitted he never met the vice mayor.
During the committee hearing chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, Trillanes stressed there was “enough information” to warrant the invitation to both Duterte and Carpio to the hearing, adding the two should not be treated “sacred cows.”
Paolo is eldest son of the President while Carpio, a nephew of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, is the husband of Davao City Mayor Sarah Duterte, daughter of the president.
Trillanes said, “I heard the majority floor leader [Tito Sotto say] that it’s hearsay. This is not a court. This is an investigative body. We’re just establishing the truth. Find―ferret out the truth. Let them defend themselves. Let us not first lawyer for them.”
Sotto interjected he was not lawyering for Duterte and Carpio but merely suggesting to the committee to first study Trillanes’ proposal for an invite since (linking Duterte and Carpio) was mere hearsay.
“It doesn’t mean [no, we should not invite them]. Do not accuse me,” Sotto said in a mix of English and Filipino.
But Trillanes noted that inviting Duterte and Carpio would give the two the opportunity to clear their names after they were both implicated as behind the so-called Davao Group, allegedly involved in the smuggling of shipments at the Bureau of Customs.
Duterte and Carpio were tagged in the smuggling case after Taguba read text messages mentioning the two names as part of the Davao Group, which has strong connection inside the BoC.
In a previous hearing, Duterte and Carpio were said to have been spotted on separate occasions visiting the office of former BoC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
But Carpio said he went there to represent some clients.
Trillanes asked Taguba about a text message he got from a certain Tita Nanie on March 17. The text message mentioned a certain “Mance.”
“Who is Mance?” Trillanes asked Taguba, who responded: “That Mance is the husband of Mayor Sara. When asked if Mance was also behind the Davao Group, Taguba answered “Yes.”
Because of this, Trillanes renewed his call to invite the presidential son and son-in- law to a hearing.
But Gordon interrupted which prompted Trillanes to question why they were so “jittery” and badgered the witness (Taguba).
Gordon asked if Trillanes was referring to him or to Sotto.
“Well, if you feel alluded to,” said Trillanes.
Gordon told Trillanes: “You know, you’re so fond of making names here. If you’re making general statements, you better prove it. This is not a cockpit of chismis [gossips]. Don’t blabber.”
Trillanes was still speaking when Gordon said: “You’re out of order. Session suspended.”
Despite tne suspension, Trillanes went on to say that the committee was being used to clear President Duterte and his family of charges.
He also slammed Gordon for turning the blue ribbon into a “comite de absuelto.”
At this juncture, Gordon flared up and in a loud voice, moved to hold Trillanes in contempt for continuing to speak even if the session had been temporarily halted.
Trillanes objected and stressed Gordon’s panel was not a “one-man committee.” He resumed the session and ignored Trillanes, but the latter raised it again: “I made the objection.”
“No, no no,” said Gordon, as he reminded Trillanes his statement was on record but the latter said the session was suspended.
“This gentleman has been accusing everyone in the Senate with everything,” Gordon said. But Trillanes interupted: “Only you!”
Gordon also threatened to personally file an ethics case against Trillanes and, at one point, turned off Trillanes’ microphone.
“Please do so, I welcome that,” said Trillanes, describing as irrational Gordon’s behavior and ruling.
He also accused Gordon of holding a “one-man show” and monopolizing hearings.
“You’ve been doing a one-man show, a monologue for several hours and you think that’s normal?” said Trillanes.
Gordon’s response was: “The trouble with this gentleman, every time he does not like something, he will conduct a coup, he will be forgiven, and he will conduct another coup.”
Strongly reacting to his remarks, Trillanes called Gordon “pathetic,” saying that he (Gordon) barricaded in Subic to “maintain” his position. when he was Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chairman.
Gordon then warned Trillanes to behave and even threatened to have the Senate sergeant-at-arms by his side.
Trillanes earlier called for the removal of Gordon as blue ribbon committee chairman.
“Now you know why I wanted him removed as panel chair,” Trillanes told reporters when the hearing was suspended.
Sotto then intervened and pacified the two warring senators.
He told Trillanes: “What’s happening is very unparliamentary. This is Gordon’s committee, just let him be.”
This led to the suspension of the hearing but resumed after a few minutes.
While he said he was sure the payments were for Paolo, Taguba said he never met the vice mayor. He also said he gave weekly payments for the group, depending on the number of containers that he needed to pass through the BoC without being alerted.
Abellera, who attended the hearing for the first time, denied being a member of the Davao Group. He said he does not know if the said group existed. But he confirmed he met with Jack and Taguba at a restaurant bar in Davao City.
He also denied receiving P5 million from Taguba since he was in the meeting at the restaurant for only five to 10 minutes.
He said Jack asked him to introduce Taguba to Paolo Duterte. “I told Jack I could not arrange such meeting.
Meanwhile, Sotto said the blue ribbon committee should focus the probe on the P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped past the BoC last May.
Interviewed after the hearing, Trillanes said the blue ribbon committee appeared to be giving Duterte and Carpio “special treatment.”
He said Gordon, also chairman of the same committee during the Arroyo administration, has a reputation of absolving high-profile personalities. He said there was a pattern.
He also emphasized how Gordon, also chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, concluded the hearing on extrajudicial killings without hearing several witnesses.
“Basing it from past demeanor, Senator Gordon, arbitrarily stopped the investigation on EJK, although there’s still a witness from the Commission on Human Rights,” he said.
His committee report on the Senate investigation on EJKs stated that the killings were not state-sponsored.
In separate interview, Gordon maintained there was no need to summon Duterte and Carpio to the hearing because the allegations of their involvement in the Davao group was a mere hearsay.
“I don’t want to be distracted from the drug issue. Once I finish this, we go back to the tara then maybe we can put it there,” he said.
He said the two would be invited only if there was direct evidence linking them to the Davao .group.
He said his committee would come out with a preliminary report on the shabu shipment probe by Monday, Sept. 4.
He gave assurances he would file an ethics complaint against Trillanes over what he called the latter’s offensive acts and language against a senator and the institution.
“He has done that consistently. I already forgave him the first time. He even came to my office and apologized, then he did it to Mr. Zubiri. Then he was trying to do it to Cayetano, he was trying to turn off the microphone,” Gordon said.
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