DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 January) — While President Rodrigo Duterte was busy commanding his troops in fighting the Maute Group in Marawi City last year, he was also kept busy fighting yet another battlefront: his war against illegal drugs and corruption was hounded not only by allegations of extrajudicial killings but also by allegations that a “Davao Group” was behind smuggling activities, including facilitating the release of the P6.4 billion shipment of 604 kilos of shabu from China through the Bureau of Customs’ green or express lane in May.
The shipment, stuffed in five steel cylinders, triggered investigations by the House of Representatives and the Senate, on the alleged corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and in the course of the investigation, Duterte’s son Paolo, Vice Mayor of Davao City, and his son-in-law Manases Carpio, husband of Mayor Sara Duterte, were implicated in the so-called “Davao Group.”
Both denied the allegations at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Blue Ribbon on September 7, 2017. Paolo dismissed the allegations as “hearsay” while Carpio said these were “rumors and gossips.”
In a privilege speech on August 23, Senator Panfilo Lacson noted that the shabu shipment that slipped past Customs “closely impacts the administration’s war on drugs – the very centerpiece of President Duterte’s campaign promises.
Here was the President, the long-time mayor of Davao City, waging war against illegal drugs and corruption and here is a “Davao Group” reportedly behind the P6.4 billion shabu shipment.
For Duterte, shabu is not just about the money involved but about how shabu addiction could destroy a city, a country.
Asked in November 2001 how much money was circulating in Davao City, on the average daily, in the illegal drugs trade, Duterte said it was 600,000 to 700,000 pesos. “That’s a lot of battered brains,” he told MindaNews.
The “Davao Group,” Lacson said, was number two among five “big players” in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) that were facilitating the release of “390 to 490 containers per day or 1,950 to 2,450 containers weekly.”
Lacson said the number one player — David Tan — facilitates the release of 100 to 110 containers weekly, followed by the “Davao Group” with 80 to 100 containers.
He also listed 43 persons who are allegedly “bribe giveres” or “players” at the BOC, among them “Charlie Tan of Davao Group.”
Customs fixer Mark Taguba, who had worked on the release of the shipment that was later found to contain shabu, had testified in the congressional hearings that he was introduced by a Jojo Bacud allegedly of the BOC to a certain “Tita Nani” of the “Davao Group” when he was having problems with alerts on his shipment, that “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,” that a certain “Jack” whom “Tita Nani” described as the “handler of Paolo,” fetched him at the Marco Polo restaurant in Davao City on January 16 last year 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.
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 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 denied the allegations.
To this day, the identities of “Tita Nani” and “Jack” and other members of the “Davao Group” remain a mystery.
“I will step down as President”
As soon as his son’s name was mentioned in the congressional hearings, President Duterte announced he would resign if allegations against his son or any member of his family were true.
At the Centennial Celebration of the Southern Philippines Medical Center. at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City on August 11, he said: “if my son was really into it or.. is in there, all you have to do is to produce the paper — because there are two ways of evidence — oral pati documentary … Just give me an affidavit and I will step down as President of this Republic. And that is my commitment to you now. That is my word.”
In subsequent speeches, he would talk about how his son eloped at the age of 18 with a Moro woman whose family was engaged in selling jars and ukay-ukay (second hand clothes) and that he was often seen at the wharf because he was helping his in-laws,
“If any of my children … Mayor Sara, si Pulong, pati si Sebastian … may hiningi na illegal or graft and corruption, I told you before, I am ready to step down as President,” he vowed during a mass oathtaking in Malacanang on August 29.
This wasn’t the first time Duterte’s son was linked to illegal drugs and not the first time Duterte vowed to resign if the allegations were true.
In 2001, Duterte told MindaNews that he researched on the allegations that his son and relatives were involved in illegal drugs. “I studied the matter very carefully, seriously, Sinabi ko sa anak ko (Paolo), ‘wag na wag kang pumasok dyan sa put–nang droga na yan kasi gagawain kitang example. Kung kaya kong mag-resign (nung) nanuntok ka lang, kaya kitang patayin kung…hiyain mo ako.’ I resigned (as congressman) for a very trivial reason…. nanuntok (ang anak ko) ng security guard tapos inatake ako kay hindi maka-file (ng kaso) kasi daw congresman ang tatay….di mag-resign tayo so you can file charges. Unfortunately, nobody accepted my resignation but I was ready to go down.”
“I will shoot my son in front of you”
In the same interview, he dared those who linked his son to “just produce a credible and true witnes” that his son was involved “and I’m going to resign as mayor of Davao City and I will shoot my son in front of you. Siguraduhin mo lang yan kay pag hindi, ikaw talaga babarilin ko. Yan ang trade off ko sa iyo. I will resign from the mayorship anytime.”
Paolo resigned his post as vice mayor on December 25, 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. The other person in this failed relationship is incorrigible and cannot be controlled And I take responsibility for all that has happened as a result of a wrong decision to marry at a very young age,” he said.
The Vice Mayor said that when he was growing up, his parents “never failed to remind us of the value of the time-honored principle of delicadeza and this is one of those instances in my life that I need to protect my honor and that of my children.”
The President denied allegations he pressured his son to resign. “No,” he told MindaNews on January 12. Paolo’s resignaion was accepted by the President in a January 5 letter signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
MindaNews asked if he ordered a probe on the “Davao Group” and what were the findings.
“I am sure that as President and as a former mayor, considering that the problem here involves not only corruption but also illegal drugs, I’m sure you had this.. so-called Davao Group investigated. What were the findings?” MindaNews asked.
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 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 assumed the 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.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)