Customs fixer: I was asked ₱5M to meet Paolo Duterte

Story updated to include revised headline.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 22) — Customs fixer Mark Taguba said a group allegedly connected to the son of President Rodrigo Duterte asked him for millions of pesos to help him move his shipments through Customs without scrutiny.

In a Tuesday Senate hearing, Taguba mentioned a so-called "Davao Group" — allegedly comprised of Davao City Councilor Small Abellera, a certain "Tita Nani" and a certain "Jack."

Taguba said Jack was Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte's "handler," according to a Jan. 11 text between him and Tita Nani.

"Ang nakalagay po sa text niya [The text said]: "Good a.m., Mark. We'll make final arrangements with Jack. He is the handler of Paolo. Now we have to advance the (enrollment fee). He can fly down to Davao to arrange your meeting with Pulong ASAP. During the meeting you personally turn over the ₱5M,"" he said, reading out the text.

However, Taguba said he gave ₱5 million cash to Abellera in a meeting in a Davao City restaurant.

 

"Based dun sa pag-uusap mo ni Small, sigurado ka that he is representing Paolo Duterte bago mo binigay yung ₱5 million [Based on your talks with Small, were you sure that he is representing Paolo Duterte before you gave the P5 million]?" asked Sen. Sonny Trillanes, a staunch critic of President Duterte.

"'Yun po ang sabi nila [That's what they said]," Taguba replied.

Taguba added that following the ₱5 million initial deposit, he gave the group a weekly bribe, the amount depending on the number of containers he brings in.

CNN Philippines has been reaching out to Abellera and Duterte, but they have yet to respond.

Drinking session gone bad

Taguba said he was referred to the Davao Group by a certain "Jojo Bacud," who was one his connections in the Bureau of Customs.

However, Customs officials said there was no one named Jojo Bacud in the bureau.

Taguba added that he turned to the group after Customs official Mike Saban started flagging his shipments following a fight with Taguba's father in a drinking session.

 

"Noong na-alert po ako ng na-alert, sinabi ko po kay Jojo na ba't hindi niya ako matulungan," he said. "Sinabi niya, "Malakas nga rin daw si Mike." Nagpatulong ako sa kanya, "Baka pwede tayong makalapit kay Commissioner pa ulit." Ang ginawa niya, nilapit na niya ako kaina Tita Nani, Jack at Small."

[Translation: When I kept getting alerts, I asked Jojo why he couldn't help me. He said, "Mike is also very influential." I asked for his help, saying "Maybe we could get close to the Customs Commissioner again." What he did was to refer me to Tita Nani, Jack and Small.]

Sen. Richard Gordon said that he has invited Abellera to appear at the committee hearing.