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Witness says 5 Customs execs receiving ‘tara’

By: Ben R. Rosario

Granted immunity from suit and security protection, Customs broker Mark Ruben Taguba yesterday tagged eight persons, five of them incumbent Bureau of Customs officials, as recipients of grease money known as “tara” for every container to facilitate the swift and easy release of shipments of goods into the country.

At the resumption of the congressional probe into the R6.4-billion illegal drugs smuggling incident conducted by the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, Taguba, a Customs broker, positively identified the alleged bribe takers who were present at the hearing at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City.

The witness confessed facilitating the entry of the R6.4-billion shabu shipment into the country for the Hongfei Logistics in Valenzuela City.

During the hearing, retired professional basketball stars Marlou Aquino, EJ Feihl, and Kenneth Duremdes showed up after being invited to shed light into reports that they are employed with the BoC on various consultancy capacities.

Grilled by House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, the three former Philippine Basketball Association standouts admitted that they have not submitted reports on intelligence and other official tasks that come with their positions as technical assistants.

BoC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon failed to appear in the legislative proceedings but was asked to submit to the House panel a medical certificate to support his excuse.

Reacting to Faeldon’s absence, House Deputy Speaker and Marikina City Rep. Miro Quimbo chided the former member of the Magdalo Group of military mutineers.

“He should stop hiding under the skirt of his chief of staff. He is a coward for not coming here,” said Quimbo.

BoC Chief of Staff Mandy Anderson faced the lawmakers and was subjected to intense grilling.

Complying with the order of House Deputy Speaker and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro to pinpoint the BoC men whose names were reflected in a list he submitted, Taguba, who was called by Castro a hero and despite hesitating, stood up and walked towards Deputy Commissioner Teddy Raval, lawyer Vincent Philip Maronilla, Manila International Container Port collector; Director Neil Estrella of the BoC intelligence and investigation services; CIIS officer Teddy Sagaral, and Director Milo Maestrocampo of the Imports and Assessment Service.

The BoC officials quickly belied Taguba’s claim after being given by lawmakers a chance to respond to the accusation.

“I can probably a rebel but I am not a thief. I don’t get money from someone that I don’t deserve, I work for my own money,” said Maestrocampo, who was among the military rebels who staged a mutiny during the term of former President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria M. Arroyo.

“When I go back to the Bureau of Customs, I will step down from my appointed post,” Maestrocampo stated even as he stressed that he is willing to be subjected to further investigation.

Taguba also named a certain Major Gutierrez, now deceased; Maita Acevedo, and a “Jason” as among those included in the list of bribed Customs personnel.

A certain “Tita Nani” was also named but was not included in the list.

One Hernani Ong will be invited in the next hearing to determine whether or not she is the Tita Nani being referred to by Taguba, said Quimbo.

According to Taguba, each step in the process of importing goods passing through the BoC agencies is facilitated under a payola scheme that involved brokers like him and corrupt BoC officials and men.