DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 08 September) — President Rodrigo Duterte’s son and son-in-law on Thursday denied involvement in or knowledge of the “Davao Group” which has been alleged to have facilitated the release of the shipment of 604 kilos of shabu worth 6.4 billion pesos through the Bureau of Customs’ green or express lane in May.
But Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and lawyer Manases Carpio, husband of Mayor Sara Duterte, admitted before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday (Sept. 7) that they know businessman Charlie Tan, the vice mayor saying he is his “kaibigan” (friend) and “kainuman” (drinking buddy).
In his privilege speech on August 23, Senator Panfilo Lacson named “Charlie Tan of Davao Group” as among the “alleged bribe givers or ‘players’ at the Bureau of Customs.”
Lacson also named the “Davao Group” as the number two among five “big players” in the Bureau of Customs which have been facilitating the release of “390 to 490 containers per day or 1,950 to 2,450 containers weekly.”
He said David Tan facilitates the release of 100 to 110 containers weekly, followed by the “Davao Group” with 80 to 100 containers.
Lacson said Customs fixer Mark Taguba, who had worked on the release of the shipment that was later found to contain shabu, “belongs to this group.”
Taguba in previous investigations in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, had testified he was introduced by a Jojo Bacud allegedly of the Bureau of Customs to a certain “Tita Nani” of the “Davao Group” when he was having problems with alerts on his shipment.
He said “Tita Nani” asked him to proceed to Davao City to pay P5 million “enrollment fee” to avail of the facilitation services of the “Davao Group.”
Taguba said a certain “Jack,” named by “Tita Nain” as the “handler of Paolo,” fetched him at the Marco Polo restaurant in Davao City on January 16 where they met with “Small” who turned out to be Davao City Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera, Jr., the vice mayor’s friend and colleague at the City Council.
Abellera, “Jack” told Taguba, is the vice mayor’s friend who would arrange the meeting with him.
Taguba said he was instructed by “Tita Nani” to hand over the 5 million pesos to Abellera, one million pesos to “Jack” and that he was supposed to remit weekly at least a million pesos a week to the “Davao Group” at P10,000 per container van for about a hundred vans a week.
Abellera, who was a no-show at the Senate hearing on August 24, showed up on August 31 and denied having received 5 million pesos from Taguba.
He admitted having met with “Jack” whose family name he says he did not know but whose number he had on his phone, and a companion who was later introduced to him as Taguba.
Abellera claimed in his affidavit that he told “Jack” and Taguba that he could not arrange the meeting with the President’s son “knowing that the Vice Mayor does not involve himself with such matters,” and that he left about five minutes later. He said he met Taguba only once.
Taguba, however, said, they met twice that day, at noon in a restaurant where he allegely gave the money just as Abellera was leaving in his vehicle and in the evening in a restobar that Abellera identified as Casa de Amigos.
In his opening statement, Vice Mayor Duterte said: “once and for all I now have the time to deny any and all baseless allegations thrown against me… My presence here is for the Filipino people and to my fellow Dabawenyos whom I serve.’
“I am very sorry but pasayloha ko (forgive me), I cannot answer allegations based on hearsay,” Duterte said.
Carpio said he and his brother in law have been “publicly crucified based on rumors and gossips.”
“I do not know Mark Taguba and I have not met him,” he said.
Replying to Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao’s question, Taguba said he mentioned the Vice Mayor’s name because “binabanggit sa akin ni Tita Nani.” He reiterated it was “hearsay” but also told Pacquiao he was not retracting the statements he made in the congressional probes.
The National Bureau of Investigation in mid-August recommended to the Department of Justice the prosecution for drug trafficking of Taguba and eight others including Cebu-based businessman Kenneth Dong, allegedly the middleman of Chinese trader Richard Tan, in connection with the P6.4 billion worth of shabu shipped from China.
Dong, who claims to be fond of taking selfies with personalities, was shown in Trillanes’ Powerpoint presentation, in a photograph with the vice mayor.
Also shown by Trillanes was a group photograph where he pointed to Duterte, Abellera, Carpio and Tan.
Senator Bam Aquino asked Carpio, Dong, Taguba and Duterte if they knew Charlie Tan.
Dong replied Tan is a “legitimate businessman in Davao” and that he has known him “for almost ten years.”
Carpio said he knew Tan as a businessman who owns a nightclub and is engaged in the seafood business as well.
Taguba said Tan was “nabanggit sa hearing dati” (was mentioned in a hearing before) which he said may have been during the Jack Lam hearing. The Senate investigated early this year the alleged bribery in the Bureau of Immigration involving Macau’s top gambling tycoon Jack Lam.
Aquino said he wants to have the transcript of the Lam hearing checked if indeed Charlie Tan was mentioned there.
Taguba, however, had exchanged text messages with “Tita Nani” on Charlie Tan in early March.
In the text messages photographed by the Senate Committee and published by various media outlets, a March 7 text conversation showed “Tita Nani” sent Taguba a text message at 7:43 a.m. notifying him of a meeting at 1 p.m. at the Blue Bay in UCC, preferably in “a place in the area that’s less peopled” and that for his information, “all special of d teves bros this week will not enjoy any privilege n cut off na charlie tan n henry tan.”
Taguba replied: “Cge po Tita gud am, I was watching the news yesterday about Charlie Tan.”
It is not clear what “Tita Nani” meant by “cut off na charlie” but is likely connected with the “news yesterday” that Taguba was referring to.
“Yesterday” refered to March 6, when retired Davao policeman Arturo Lascañas testified in a Senate Committee hearing that Vice Mayor Duterte had ordered him to escort a container van from China that he suspects may have been stuffed with illegal drugs by Charlie Tan and that if it, indeed, contained illegal drugs, “hulihin mo si Charlie Tan” (arrest Charlie Tan).
Before he could reach the designated area, Lascañas said he received a phone call from the Vice Mayor not to proceed with his earlier order. “Arbor ko na lang ni, Bro. Ako na ang bahala kay Charlie” (Give this to me. I’ll handle this).
In Filipino, Lascanas testified that the Vice Mayor summoned him and told him that he and Tan met in China and that Tan told him that since he had already bought souvenirs, they will just ship it together since the Vice Mayor’s van was big, a 40-footer van.
In Filipino, Lascanas narrated that the Vice Mayor told him that he agreed to Tan’s suggestion but when the shipment’s arrival took so long, “he told me that he was 100% certain that Charlie Tan may have stuffed his van with illegal drugs, particularly shabu,” Lascanas told the Senate hearing.
He said the Vice Mayor ordered him to escort the container van to the barangay hall of Catalunan Grande, and when it is opened and there is, indeed, illegal stuff there, “hulihin si Charlie Tan” (arrest Charlie Tan).
Lascañas, who retired in December 2016, said the van arrived after several months. “Sinundan namin ang van pero bago ako makarating sa basketball court ng Catalunan Grande, tumawag si Vice Mayor Polong, ang sabi niya sa akin, ‘Arbor ko na lang ni, Bro. Ako na ang bahala kay Charlie,'” (We tailed the van but before we could reach the basketball court of Catalunan Grande, Vice Mayor Polong arrived phoned me to say ‘Arbor ko na lang ni Bro. Ako na bahala kay Charlie.’
Lascañas did not say when did this alleged incident happen. Duterte has been Vice Mayor since 2013 and barangay chair and councilor from 2007 to 2013.
In a statement posted on Facebook on March 6, Vice Mayor Duterte dismissed Lascañas allegations that day as “made up accusations.”
The Vice Mayor said Senator Antonio Trillanes is “desperate in bringing down my father that he would move heaven and earth just to pin us down in these made up accusations.”
Trillanes, he said, “is making money in this circus because his political career is already at a dead end.”
“No less than retired SPO3 Lascañas admitted that he sought the help of the Trillanes in recanting from his earlier Senate testimony. This only shows that Trillanes is behind the latest Lascañas testimony that not only dragged the name of President Duterte in the summary killings but also tried in vain to include me and my friend in the illegal drug trade,” the Vice Mayor said.
On February 20 this year, Lascanas recanted an October 3 testimony before the Senate that there was no Davao Death Squad and that it was only a “media hype.” He said the DDS was real and not a media hype. He spoke about the origins of the DDS and how he participated in several killings, allegedly on instructions of then mayor (Rordigo) Duterte.
In response to Aquino’s query on Thursday if he knew Charlie Tan, Vice Mayor Duterte said, “kaibigan ko po matagal na” (a long-time friend). He said Tan owns a KTV bar and has a seafood business in Palawan and a piggery.
“Kainuman ko po” (my drinking buddy), he added.
When Aquino said Tan’s name was mentioned several times in port transactions, Duterte replied, “Your honor, I think Charlie Tan can best answer that.”
Aquino moved to have Tan invited at the next hearing on Monday.
Aquino also asked newly-assumed Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena if Tan’s name is on the Customs watch list.
“We’ll check our records, your honor,” Lapena relied.
MindaNews had earlier asked Lapeña if he would conduct an investigation into the alleged “Davao Group.”
His reply on August 29: “the reason why I am now at BOC (Bureau of Customs) is because of many issues which are now the subject of investigation by the (House of Representatives) and the Senate.”
“I will take action including further investigations based on the result of investigations conducted by the (House of Representatives) and Senate, and that would include everybody without exemption,” said Lapeña, who spent at least 12.6 years in Davao City out of his 33.7 years in the police service.
Lapeña’s service record shows he spent 152 months in Davao City out of 403 months in his police career, most of that while Paolo’s father, Rodrigo Duterte, was mayor. Duterte was city mayor for 22 years.
Among other posts he served in Davao, Lapeña was City Director of the Davao City Police Office from 1996-1998 (Duterte’s third term) and Regional Director of the Philippine National Police form 2002-2004, when Duterte returned as mayor after a three-year stint at the House of Representatives.
Aside from these posts, he served as Deputy Chief PNP for Operations at the PNP National Headquarters and Mindanao Area Police Supervisor. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)