January 16, 2018, 11:12 pm
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Customs intel chief resigns

CUSTOMS Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) Director Neil Estrella on Wednesday night told congressmen that he has resigned from his post amid allegations that he is among the Customs officials who accepted bribes from broker-importer Mark Ruben Taguba II.

In a hearing of the House committee on ways and means on Wednesday night, Estrella said he has already submitted his resignation to President Duterte, which he coursed through Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

“It is with deep regret – not least because of the tremendous trust you have reposed in my position and because of the renewed support you have extended our leadership – that I write to resign as Director of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) of the Bureau of Customs (BOC),” Estrella told the President in the letter.

Taguba II on Monday said the Customs officials who received bribe money from him include Director Milo Maestrecampo of the Import Assessment Service (IAS), a fellow former Magdalo mutineer of Customs Commissioner Nick Faeldon who was the first to resign after the allegations were made before the committee on dangerous drugs.

Also named were Teddy Sagaral, Manila International Container Port (MCIP) Service district intelligence officer; Customs deputy commissioner Teddy Raval; and Manila International Container Port (MCIP) district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla.

Estrella, who is being blamed by lawmakers, along with Faeldon, for bungling the seizure of the illegal drugs in Valenzuela City last May 26, told the President in the same letter that he has realized over the past days “that I will no longer be able to fulfill my duties in the manner we both desire.”

Taguba, who is being linked to the shipment of P6.4 billion worth of shabu last May 23, has claimed that Customs officials received bribes in exchange for waiving the processing of his shipments.

“The sensitivity of my office and the methodology it entails have now been compromised by unnecessary publicity. I hope my resignation paves the way for an impartial investigation and leads to substantive reforms in the BOC,” Estrella said.

Estrella denied Taguba’s accusations, telling the President that he and his colleagues “have been true to your mandate – We have faced enormous risks against smuggling.”

“But it is not fair to continue to put my family and colleagues through this outrageously baseless insinuation of wrongdoing. I deny in the strongest possible terms having received any form of bribe from Mr. Mark Taguba,” he said.

Faeldon, who was expected to be discharged from the hospital yesterday, has expressed willingness to continue cooperating with the House by attending the next committee hearings on the shabu shipment.

The Customs commissioner was visited yesterday morning by the medical team of the House of Representatives at the Manila East Medical Center in Taytay, Rizal where he was confined after complaining of chest pains due to “heart problems.”

Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu said the House committees on dangerous drugs and on ways and means will require Faeldon’s attendance even if he has already attended hearings last week.

House sergeant-at-arms Roland Detabali said Faeldon personally told him he was willing to attend the future hearings.

Detabali said Faeldon was transferred from the intensive care unit (ICU) to a regular room where he remains “in high spirits.”

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said in a statement that Faeldon is “at the heart” of the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling, “and once he is done malingering, I hope he musters enough courage to face the grilling of the senators and congressmen.”

However, Trillanes cleared Gerry Gambala and Maestrecampo.

Trillanes also confirmed the statements of Faeldon, Gambala and Maestrecampo that they are no longer members of Magdalo.

“However, having known well enough my PMA classmates, Gerry Gambala and Milo Maestrecampo, I am almost certain that they are not part of the syndicate that facilitated the release of this P6-billion shabu shipment,” he said.

“Having said that, the various investigations, which they have bravely faced, ultimately, would determine their guilt or innocence,” he added.

In a hearing of the House committee on dangerous drugs yesterday, a witness named five alleged drug personalities operating in the Bicol region following the discovery of a “mega shabu” laboratory in Virac, Catanduanes last November.

A masked 31-year-old Ernesto Tabor Jr., a self-confessed former police and NBI “asset,” identified the five as Constantino Cordial, former mayor of Caramoan, Camarines Sur; Snooky Imperial of Legaspi City; Bernardino Wong of Catanduanes; a certain Don Pepe of Tiaong, Quezon; and Jun Rance of Binondo, Manila.

Panel members, including chair Robert Ace Barbers (NP, Surigao del Norte), doubted the witness’ testimony.

Rep. Romeo Acop (PDP-Laban, Antipolo), a lawyer and retired police general, said he was wondering how PO2 Benjamin dela Rosa, who has only been in the service for eight years, was able to prepare Tabor’s detailed affidavit.

Dela Rosa, who has been an investigator for four years, used to work as a “casual” in the office of former Catanduanes Governor Jose Cua in 2007 before joining the police force two years later.

“This to me this is very perfect. As it is, I believe this affidavit was prepared by somebody. Because if you did this, then you could have been better than a lawyer,” he said, wondering why Don Pepe and Rance were not excluded in the amended complaint.

Acop also found it questionable that the charges were filed only about 12 hours after the affidavit was prepared. – With JP Lopez
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