Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte on Thursday told the Senate he had no links to a seized shipment of P6.4-billion shabu from China or to a drug triad.
Even before Senator Antonio Trillanes, a staunch critic of President Duterte, could field a question, the young Duterte opened up to deny the allegations.
“Once and for all, I now have the time to deny any and all baseless allegations thrown against me… I am very sorry… but I cannot answer allegations based on hearsay,” the son of President Duterte told the Senate.
“My presence here is for the Filipino people and for my fellow Davaoeños whom I serve,” he added, referring to the people of Davao, where his father served as mayor for more than two decades before being elected President in 2016.
Trillanes displayed to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee photographs of the Davao City vice mayor beside Charlie Tan who was implicated in the shipment of cylinders where the alleged drugs were discovered.
He said Tan is also a member of the Davao Group which whistleblower Mark Taguba claimed facilitated the shipment of cylinders in which the P6.4-billion shabu from China were found. He also named Kenneth Dong, the alleged middleman of the shabu shipment; and Davao City councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera as member of the group.
The younger Duterte, during the hearing, admitted that Tan is his friend and drinking buddy but said he had no knowledge whether he had any dealings with the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
The President’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio, who has also been accused of links to the May drug shipment from China, told the hearing he had no involvement.
“I am here to give due respect to the committee invitation and defer to the authority of the Senate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation. Me and my brother-in-law have been publicly crucified based on rumors and gossips,” Carpio said in dismissing the allegations. He likewise denied knowing Taguba.
Taguba, in both Senate and House hearings, repeatedly mentioned them as members of the Davao Group, but later recanted and apologized to the two for implicating them in the controversy.
During the hearing Thursday, Taguba stood firm and told the Senate panel he will not change his latest statement.
Trillanes also said he had intelligence information from an undisclosed foreign country that Paolo Duterte was a member of a criminal syndicate, citing as proof a “dragon-like” tattoo with secret digits on his back.
Trillanes said the syndicate is based in China, Hong Kong, and Macau, and is engaged in various criminal activities, including illegal drugs.
Trillanes said the tattoo even had “sacred digits” to confirm Duterte is part of the triad.
“No way,” he told Trillanes smiling.
Asked about the tattoo, Duterte said he had one, but declined to describe it, invoking his right to privacy.
Asked by Trillanes if he would allow a photograph to be taken of the tattoo and sent to the US Drug Enforcement Agency to decode secret digits, Duterte said: “No way.”
He refused to respond to questions about his bank accounts, calling them “irrelevant.”
Malacañang said Trillanes better have evidence supporting his allegations that Davao City Vice Mayor Duterte is a member of a drug triad.
According to Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, Trillanes made a very drastic allegation and said the senator should have evidence to back his claims up.
“That’s pretty drastic. Those are really serious allegations. And he needs to have some pretty substantial evidence to support that statement,” Abella said during the Palace press briefing Thursday morning.
In an interview after the hearing, lawyer Rainer Madrid, Vice Mayor Duterte’s legal counsel, said he advised his client not to show the tattoo.
“Why do we have to play his game, uto-uto ba kami (are we gullible)? Just to clear our names?” Madrid asked.
The lawyer tagged Trillanes a “propagandist.” He said the “triad” allegations will not be validated in courts having based solely “on intelligence reports and hearsays.”
Trillanes, however, said he is willing to present his sources and submit his evidence as the committee had asked.
Trillanes alleged Duterte and Carpio were keeping millions of pesos in their various bank accounts in Davao City.
In his presentation at the Senate inquiry, Trillanes said the Davao City vice mayor had more than P104 million in his personal bank accounts, naming two banks in the city where the official allegedly kept the money.
He said Carpio, on the other hand, had P121 million in at least two bank accounts.
Vice Mayor Duterte refused to confirm Trillanes’ claims and called it “irrelevant.” Asked by the Senate panel, he said he invokes his right to self-incrimination. His brother-in-law likewise disputed the allegation.
The two also refused to sign the pro-forma waivers that Trillanes prepared in case they deny.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, kung walang mali, there’s nothing to be revealed,” he said, challenging the two.
Meanwhile, Customs officials confirm the existence of a culture of corruption and a regular distribution of “tara” (payola) at the agency.
Newly installed BOC Commissioner Isidro S. Lapeña, former PDEA chief, admitted this when asked by Lacson.
The tara system facilitates the movement of goods of certain businessmen, Lapeña said.
When he joined the BOC last year upon invitation of former BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, Capt. Gerardo O. Gambala of the BoC Command Center told Lacson that the tara system exists.
Gambala, a former military rebel like Faeldon and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, said there are issues of extortion and harassment on businessmen by unscrupulous persons that faced him at the waterfront.
“Yes, there is a ‘tara’ system,’’ Gambala told Lacson.
Lawyer Mandy Anderson, Faeldon’s chief of staff, replied, “Yes” to Lacson’s query whether a tara system exists at the BOC.
Anderson said this was her assessment after talking to the BOC rank and file “that there is a regular system of distribution of money but they did not call it tara.”
“Yes, that is why the 604 kilos of shabu was able to be smuggled out,” Joel Pinawin, a BOC official for the past seven years, told Lacson. (With reports from Argyll B. Geducos, Mario B. Casayuran, and Genalyn D. Kabiling)