A contractual employee of the Bureau of Customs testified on Wednesday that she received bribe money from Customs broker/fixer Mark Taguba for Customs Intelligence Officer Joel Pinawin and former Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director Neil Anthony Estrella.
Testifying during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee 11th hearing into the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling that slipped past the Bureau of Customs, May Escoto said she received the money from Taguba on three occasions.
Escoto said she got the money placed inside two brown envelopes from Taguba on three separate occasions upon the orders of Pinawin of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Services.
The envelopes, Escoto said, were labeled “Sir Joel” and “Director,” which was supposedly for CIIS director Neil Estrella.
Senator Panfilo Lacson had initially asked Escoto to confirm whether she had met Taguba to collect money for Pinawin and Estrella.
Quizzed by Lacson how much the money worth and how thick was the envelope, Escoto said she didn’t know. “As much as possible I wouldn’t want to touch it,” she said.
Escoto also told the Senate panel she was directed by Pinawin to give him her sim card and just buy a new one.
But Pinawin strongly denied Escoto’s allegations, insisting that he never asked Escoto to get any package from Taguba. She branded as all lies Escoto’s statemenrs.
“First of all, I did not give any orders to May and her husband. It is clear here that if they have their own communications it is just between them including their transactions your honor. It is personal between them,” said Pinawin.
Escoto, a contractual emloyee at the BOC, also said she was ordered by Pinawin to contact Taguba last April 7 and remind him of that something for the director and for him.
Pressed by Lacson to explain what it meant, Escoto replied she didn!t know. She didn’t call him because it was still early and she’s not close to Taguba. So she merely texted him, “Happy morning. Remind ko lang po ‘yung kay sir Joel at kay director.
Meanwhile, BOC commissioner Isidro Lapena said tax credit certificates, or the documents that refunds taxes to companies, are a source of “pasalubong” in the said government agency. He also admitted this was a source of corruption.
“I told them [media] that I did not, I have not received pasalubong. I was thinking there was no such thing,” Lapeña said when asked if he received pasalubong.
Senator Panfilo Lacson had accused former Commissionee Nicanor Faeldon of receiving P100 million “welcome gift” when he assumed his post at the BOC. Faeldon denied the charges and even filed an ethics complaint against Lacson before the Senate Ethics commitee,
“Two three weeks ago, I started receiving bundles of folders for tax credit certificates so I signed this, it comes to my table, it has been processed, it is legitimate so I signed it and released it back to those who processed it,” said Lapena.
Lapena said he was then informed by a concerned employee of the BOC that it was the source of “pasalubong.” Due to this, he immediatehily ordered the recall of the certificates he had signed and ordered the investigation of the matter.
As this developed, Estrella said in a statement that he condemns the smear campaign by the Taguba camp against CISS members who last May 26 seized 605 kg of shabu smuggled into the country in a shipment brokered by Taguba himself last May.
Estrella said the smear campaign against him and his men by the Taguba camp is motivated by the need to discredit them so as to weaken the drug case filed against Mark Taguba for arranging the shipment’s passage through the BOC and transfer to an outside warehouse.
Estrella said Mark himself admitted in Congress that he implicated the CISS members in his payola expose because they had linked him to the drug smuggling case.
“They must destroy our credibility to weaken the case against Mark. That, aside from vengeance, is his motivation for his malicious lies against us,” said Estrella.
Acting CIIS Intelligence chief Joel Pinawin had ascertained Mark’s involvement as the broker of the contraband shipment and after locating him, presented Taguba to the NBI for interview.
Estrella likewise belied the claim of Taguba that their company’s packing list of the shipment did not have the five metal cylinders or molds that contained the drugs. Hence, Taguba claimed in the Senate probe that the cylinders were never part of his cargo.
Estrella said the original packing list furnished by the shipping company of the container brokered by Taguba, had itemized the five metal cylinders as part of the shipment.
Estrella also denied Taguba’s claim that CIIS personnel including Estrella were given pay-offs by Taguba.
“If this were so, then why did we present him to the NBI for investigation on May 29, after his name came out as the shipment’s broker? He himself has said in Congress, the only reason he is accusing us is because he is involved in the drug case.”
Pinawin flatly denied Taguba’s claim that Taguba had given him P3 million for warehouses in Baclaran which were closed down by the CIISS in March. He said Taguba came to their office to complain about having given the P3 million pay off to Jojo Bacud who had told Taguba he would use the money to pay off the CIIS.
“Kaya hinanap namin iyan Jojo Bacud, who we know to be a close associate of the Tagubas. We challenge Ruben Taguba to produce Jojo Bacud, who used to be a councilor in Taguba’s town when he was vice mayor,” said Pinawin.
Pinawin also said Taguba’s witness Mae who claimed to be a bagman for the CIIS on behalf of Taguba was the live-in partner of Ricky Carvajal, a columnist in Taguba’s newspaper Customs News.
“The linkage is very clear. This witness is lying to further the interests of the Tagubas,” said Pinawin.