On Thursday before the Senate blue ribbon committee, customs broker Mark Taguba categorically mentioned the names of President Duterte’s son and son-in-law, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and lawyer Maneses Carpio, in connection with an alleged Davao-based group of big-time fixers in Customs that had been implicated in the smuggling of a shipment of “shabu” worth P6.4 billion.
Reading a series of text messages exchanged by him and a certain “Tita Nannie,” Taguba reiterated his testimony in earlier hearings that the woman had arranged for him to meet Davao City Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera in January, so he could fork over P5 million as “enrollment fee” to bring his shipments under the protection of the so-called Davao Group of Paolo Duterte and Carpio. Thereafter, Taguba claimed, he paid a weekly fee of P10,000 per container on “an average of 100 containers,” for a total payout of P1 million a week. The arrangement, he said, ensured that his shipments passed through Customs without a hitch.
The alleged text message of “Tita Nannie” that mentioned Paolo Duterte said in part: “Good am, Mark. We’ll make final arrangement with Jack, he’s the handler of Paolo, now we have to advance the enroll. He can fly down to Davao to arrange your meeting with Pulong ASAP. During the meeting, you personally turn over the P5M…”
Another text message, this time from Taguba to “Tita Nannie,” said: “There’s no need to panic. I haven’t filed it yet all I need from Tito Jack is for either P or Mance to call collector Jet Maronilla that we have go signal for our SPL.”
Asked by Sen. Antonio Trillanes who “P” and “Mance” were, Taguba said it was Pulong (Paolo Duterte’s nickname) and Carpio, the husband of Paolo’s sister, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
That was Thursday. A mere day later, around noon of yesterday, Taguba had completely changed his tune. He issued a statement apologizing to Paolo Duterte and Carpio, and “categorically making it clear that: 1. I had never testified, nor will I ever testify that Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and/or Atty. Manse Carpio were involved in the shipment of illegal drugs into the country. Neither have I testified, nor will I ever testify that the aforementioned individuals were involved in the ‘Tara System’ that was in place at the Bureau of Customs.”
Overnight, Taguba, who had for weeks regaled the public with details of extensive corruption at Customs, appeared to have had the wind knocked out of him. What happened? What is going on?
The web of incriminating stories had steadily crept upward ever since Taguba made his first appearance at the Senate to explain his involvement as one of those who reportedly facilitated the P6.4-billion drug shipment from China. His testimony opened a can of worms—even more intriguing stories about how a shadowy but well-connected group has supposedly cornered a lucrative trade protecting certain customs shipments from scrutiny. It led observers to wonder who was backing him, or where he found the nerve to make his claims.
The amounts he mentioned alone have been enormous: P5 million as “enrollment fee,” P1 million a week for the regular shipments, and a one-time P2 million that he said he handed to Jack, Paolo Duterte’s alleged handler, as a way to soothe the vice mayor’s purported misgivings about the possibility of a newbie like him eventually ratting out.
Is the public to understand that it was all a yarn? If so, to what end? But Taguba’s accusations are dead serious, and it’s a mistake to think that these would be squelched with the strange and sudden recantation of testimony made under oath. His turnaround will not stop, in fact will only fan, speculation. The public needs to know the truth lest this matter become a festering wound that will continue to afflict the tarnished parties. Despite Taguba’s turnaround and apology, digging further has become even more imperative. Is the Senate blue ribbon committee up to asking the necessary questions?
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