DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 May) — The Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday announced it has completed its investigation on the complaint involving the P6.4 billion shabu smuggling case, recommended the filing of criminal charges against then Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and three of his men but dismissed the complaints against the Presidential son and son-in-law — then Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and lawyer Manases Carpio “for lack of basis.”
“The complaints against former Davao City Vice-Mayor Paolo Duterte and Atty. Manases Carpio were dismissed for lack of basis,” the Ombudsman’s office said in a press release posted on its website on May 2.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, aunt of Manases Carpio, took no part in the fact-finding investigation.
Paolo, the eldest son of President Rodrigo Duterte, resigned as Vice Mayor on Christmas Day last year, out of delicadeza, citing “recent unfortunate events in my life that are closely tied to my failed first marriage.”
“These, among others, include the maligning of my reputation in the recent name dropping incident in the Bureau of Customs smuggling case and the very public squabble with my daughter,” he said. His resignation was accepted by his father in early January.
Carpio is the husband of President Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
According to the Office of the Ombudsman’s announcement, the Special Panel of the Fact-Finding Investigators completed the fact-finding investigation on the complaint involving the smuggling of 602.2 kilograms of high-grade methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) with an estimated street value of P6.4 billion and recommended the filing of criminal charges for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against Faeldon, Import Assessment Service Director Milo Maestrecampo, Risk Management Office Chief Larribert Hilario and Accounts Management Office Chief Mary Grace Tecson-Malabed.
Section 3(e) states that corruption includes “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.”
The panel also recommended the filing of administrative charges of Grave Misconduct against Faeldon and BOC team leader Joel Pinawin and assistant team leader Oliver Valiente; and Gross Neglect of Duty and Grave Misconduct against Tecson-Malabed and Maestrecampo.
It also recommended the filing of additional charges of Usurpation of Official Functions (Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code), violation of Section 32 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA. 9165) against Faeldon, and violation of Section 3(a) of RA 3019 against Faeldon and BOC Director Neil Anthony Estrella.
The criminal and administrative charges will undergo preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication, respectively, it said.
On May 26 last year, joint operatives from the BOC-Customs Intelligence and Investigative Services, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency raided a warehouse owned by the Philippine Hongfei Logistics Group of Companies, Inc. in Valenzuela City on the controlled delivery of a shipment declared to contain printing cylinders but actually contained shabu.
According to the Ombudsman’s panel, “the BOC later discovered and seized the shabu but the manner through which the discovery and seizure were made leaves much to be desired. Evidence suggests that numerous laws and administrative issuances pertaining to the proper search, seizure, handling and controlled delivery of drugs were violated by the public officers.”
The P6.4 billion shipment of illegal drugs was investigated by Congress where a Customs fixer revealed the existence of the “Davao Group” allegedly doing “facilitation services” at the Customs bureau.
Then Vice Mayor Duterte and Carpio were summoned to and appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on September 7, 2017 where they denied involvement in or knowledge of the “Davao Group” which allegedly facilitated the release of the shipment of the 6.4 billion worth of shabu through the Bureau of Customs’ green or express lane in May.
But the Vice Mayor and Carpio admitted before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that they knew businessman Charlie Tan, the vice mayor saying he is his “kaibigan” (friend) and “kainuman” (drinking buddy).
In his privilege speech on August 23, 2017, 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 Nani” as the “handler of Paolo,” fetched him at the Marco Polo restaurant in Davao City on January 16, 2017 where they met with “Small” who turned out to be Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera, Jr., the vice mayor’s friend and colleague at the City Council.
Abellera, “Jack” told Taguba, would arrange the meeting with the vice mayor.
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 allegedly 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 at the Senate, 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,” he 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.
As Davao City mayor for 22 years who brought to the national level his war on illegal drugs and corruption, President Duterte was expected to have ordered his own investigation into this alleged “Davao Group,” so what were his findings, MindaNews asked him at the Presidential Guest House on January 12.
Duterte replied: “Wala ako. First time I heard about the Davao Group was yung sa (congressional) investigation. Hindi ako nakikialam. I do not even call my Cabinet secretary. You can ask anybody including Secretary (Harry) Roque, never once. I have kept my distance from all of these things. I am focused on my job signing papers, reviewing them if it’s legal or not, just to keep safe. I spend a lot of time doing that. Wala ako diyan mga Davao Group, Davao Group. Hindi ako nakikialam dyan, unless maybe I physically order somebody there sa NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) or sa police.”
Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena, who took over Faeldon’s post on August 30, told MindaNews on December 26 that the ‘Davao Group’ “remains a subject of monitoring and investigation” but “so far under my watch, nobody came forward from .. Davao to ask for favor.”
On January 29, Lapena told the Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the P6.4 billion shabu shipment: “I am getting information about Tita Nani your honor and I think we should be able to identify her.”
To this day, “Tita Nani” has yet to be identified. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)