Senate takes custody of customs broker linked to shabu shipment

MANILA, Philippines – After hearing a customs official's revelations in an executive session about the P6.4 billion worth of shabu smuggled from China, the Senate blue ribbon committee granted him protective custody on Monday, July 31.

Senator Richard Gordon, committee chair, said it was necessary to provide security to Mark Ruben Taguba – a "willing witness" – after he wrote the names of the officials involved in the illegal shipment.

"I made him write it. I did not want him to just say it.... There will definitely be liabilities," Gordon told reporters after the Senate hearing.

"[With the] executive session, people will think and imagine he said something right. Whether he said something or not, it doesn't matter, we have to give him protective custody," Gordon said.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said Taguba mentioned some "officials" during the meeting, but Sotto refused to identify them. Taguba supposedly told them that these "officials" benefitted from the scheme through "payola."

The Senate leader said he considers Taguba's revelations "accurate."

"He gave information that might earn the ire of some groups. Remember something like that happened in Customs recently," Sotto said in a mix of English and Filipino. "With the kind of information he gave, it's quite accurate. And it has many implications."

Taiwanese national

During the hearing, Taguba said a certain Richard Tan or Richard Chen, a Taiwanese national, ordered the shipping of the 604 kilos of shabu from China and, in turn, would know the recipient in the Philippines.

Taguba claimed he was just dragged into the issue, as he did not know the shipment contained illegal drugs.

Taguba claimed he was able to release the shipment from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on May 23 – 3 days before the raid on a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

Gordon has called for the issuance of a hold departure order against Tan. The panel is also set to subpoena Larribert Hilario, the BOC's Risk Management Officer. He is accused of misrepresenting information to allow the shipment to pass through the BOC's green or express lane, where there is no need to scan the shipment under X-ray.

BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon told the Senate panel he verbally suspended Hilario pending investigation, and that the officer seems to have gone into hiding.

"Since we suspended him, we cannot contact and locate him. He's nowhere to be found," Faeldon said.

Gordon said the next committee hearing is set for August 8. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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