Fixer's texts link customs commissioner's office to payoff system

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 25) — A series of text messages revealed on Monday by a customs fixer linked the office of the customs chief to the so-called "tara," an entrenched system of bribery within the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

During the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation on the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of illegal drugs from China, whistleblower-fixer Mark Taguba presented on Powerpoint a series of text messages  between himself and contacts in the BOC.

"Gud am. Marc 2 items on d plate. Re ocom problem rqst additional 50gran. Re ur alert d operative word is voluntary upgrade from 40gran to 50gran," the text message from "Tita Nani" to Taguba on April 10 read.

"Ocom" is short for "Office of the Commissioner," a post held that time by former captain Nicanor Faeldon.

Tita-Nani-convo-CNNPH.jpg One of the slides used by Mark Taguba, showing a conversation between him and a certain "Tita Nani."  

Taguba said "Tita Nani" had asked him for P50,000 as a "voluntary upgrade" of the shipment so that a physical examination would no longer be necessary.

When Taguba was asked by Senator Ping Lacson whom the payment is for, Taguba said, "Ocom po." Lacson asked if he referred to the "Office of the Commissioner." Taguba replied "yes."

Lacson said that based on the "tara" system, there is an initial payoff, another one to lift the alert order, and yet another to lift the "special stop order." Lacson, who accused Faeldon of corruption, said only the customs chief can lift the special stop order.

Faeldon has been detained in the Senate since September 11 for refusing to appear before the Senate inquiry. He has consistently denied all the allegations against him and filed an ethics complaint on September 18 against Lacson. The complaint was set aside by the Senate ethics committee on Monday.

Related: Former customs chief files ethics complaint vs. senator and co-mutineer Trillanes

Taguba also presented other calls and conversations with Customs personnel that showed their involvement in the "tara."

He cited Joel Pinawin, a former customs intelligence officer. Pinawin denied his involvement in an earlier hearing.

Another April 8 message shows a contact requesting Taguba for a minimum amount to cover a payoff as advised by a certain "MM".

Taguba said "MM" refers to is Milo Maestrecampo, former director of the BOC's Import Assessment Service. Maestrecampo previously denied receiving payoffs and has since resigned his post.

This is the tenth hearing on the 604 kilos of shabu from China worth P6.4 billion that slipped through Customs, and eventually unearthed an extensive system of bribery in the BOC. An estimated P98 billion pesos each year is paid by fixers to different departments in the BOC, Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Richard Gordon has said. 

The senate committee is nowhere near ending the inquiry soon. Persons of interest mentioned by Taguba such as "Tita Nani," "Jack,"  and Jojo Bacud who are fixers or have contacts with customs officials for the payoff have yet to be found and presented to the Senate.

Gordon sought an arrest order on Monday for Bacud, who he said was ignoring summons from the Senate to appear, ever since the hearings began on  July 31.