Ex-customs chief Faeldon detained at Senate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — Former Customs Chief Nicanor Faeldon turned himself in on Monday to the Senate after refusing a summons to appear at the ongoing inquiry on drug smuggling and corruption in customs bureau.

Senate Blue Ribbon committee chair Richard Gordon said he tried to convince Faeldon to testify before the committee but failed.

Faeldon arrived at the senate a little before noon on Monday, wearing a white t-shirt with the words "Truth is Justice" printed on it. He is now detained at the office of the senate's sergeant-at-arms until he decides to speak or is allowed to be freed.  

"Kinausap ko siya para kako 'yung side mo marinig at lugi ka kung 'di ka aakyat," Gordon told reporters. "Sabi niya respetado naman niya ang Senado at handa siyang mag-stay dito at makulong at hahabulin na lang niya sa korte," he added.

[Translation: I talked to him to let him know that he should tell his side of the story, because he would be on the losing end if he didn't go up. He said he respected the Senate and he is ready to stay here and be detained as he will go after it in court.]

Even without Faeldon, the Blue Ribbon Committee carried on with its seventh hearing Monday on the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China which exposed an entrenched system of bribery known as "tara" within the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Faeldon earlier expressed doubts on the impartiality of the hearings at Senate, which has come down hard on the customs bureau for widespread corruption.

It was during Faeldon's term as BOC head that the shabu entered the Philippines in May 2017.

READ: Faeldon: I will let myself be arrested on September 11

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on September 7 cited Faeldon for  contempt for ignoring invitations to appear at the hearings. Of the seven hearings since July 31, Faeldon has only attended three.

'Tara' investigation continues

In Monday's hearing, the senate berated the law enforcement, particularly the National Bureau of Investigation and the BOC, for its lack of urgency and focus on resolving the problem of drug smuggling.

READ: Senators blast lack of urgency, focus in shabu shipment investigation

Former customs director, Milo Maestrecampo of the bureau's Import and Assessment Service defended himself from allegations that he was part of the "tara" system.

Customs fixer and whistleblower Mark Taguba and Senator Ping Lacson mentioned Maestrecampo as among the alleged beneficiaries of corruption.

Gordon cited a text message from Taguba which mentioned the initials "MM." "Meron kang MM dun sa iyong mga text messages. Sino yung MM?"

[Translation: There is an MM in your text messages. Who is MM?]

Taguba said MM was Maestrocampo.

"Sa madaling sabi, si Mike Maestrecampo ay talagang kasama sa nagpapayag para makalabas at kasama siya sa binibigyan mo ng tara," Gordon said.

[Translation: So, Maestrocampo is really among those who allow shipments to go through and he is part of the group you give tara to?]

Taguba said he believed Maestrocampo was part of it because the fixer's requests for the removal of alert orders on his incoming shipments had to pass through the Import Assessment Services deaprtment.

Maestrecampo denied Taguba's allegations saying the name of his department was abused.

"I don't have the power to lift alert I don't have the power to alert," the former customs official said.

Another personality behind the aliases mentioned in whistleblower Taguba's texts as part of the "tara" system was Col. Allen Capuyan, assistant general manager for Security and Emergency Services of the Manila International Airport Authority. Capuyan was tagged ni Taguba's texts as "Big Brother."

Taguba said Capuyan was the one behind the group that facilitates the release of flagged shipments at the airport. Capuyan is on official leave.

Gordon asked Taguba if he asked help from Capuyan, to which Taguba answered in the affirmative.

The fixer was then asked if Capuayn as able to help. Taguba said "yes," adding he gave Capuyan a check worth P1 million.

Capuyan denied the allegation, saying he was merely informed by former intelligence officer Jojo Bacud, a classmate of his at the Philippine Military Academy, on how the system works.

It looks like the committee is nowhere near ending the inquiry soon. More personalities mentioned by Taguba such as "Tita Nani," "Jack," and Bacud have yet to be found and presented in the senate.