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Employee says she collected ‘tara’ for Customs intel officers

MANILA, Philippines – A contractual employee of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) testified before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Wednesday, October 4, that she collected "tara" or grease money of intelligence officers of the bureau.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson brought to the Senate on Wednesday May Escoto, staff of Joel Pinawin from the BOC’s Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS).

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is continuing the hearing to thresh out the tara system or the culture of payoffs inside Customs.

Lacson presented a text message from Escoto sent to fixer Mark Taguba which said: “Remind lang ni Sir Joel ‘yung kay Director at ‘yung sa kanya (Sir Joel reminds you – for Director and for him."

Director refers to Neil Estrella, the former chief of the CIIS who resigned in August in the middle of the investigation into the P6.4-billion worth shabu shipment smuggled through Customs.

Escoto confirmed the text messages to Taguba and said on one occasion she went to Taguba’s office and was handed two brown envelopes each labeled “Director” and “Sir Joel.”

"Sabi niya (Pinawin) kunin mo na, eh wala rin naman akong choice kaya napilitan ako pumunta sa office ni Sir Mark," Escoto said. (READ: Customs broker pinpoints alleged corrupt officials at House hearing)

(Pinawin said just get it, I didn't have a choice so I went to Sir Mark's office.)

Escoto said she collected thrice from Taguba on April 7, April 21, and May 5.

Lacson presents witness May Escoto, a contractual staff of BOC "to corroborate the testimonies" of Mark Taguba pic.twitter.com/8Bru3cjqZA — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) October 4, 2017

Transactions

Taguba, who was sitting beside her, said that aside from Escoto, her husband called "Tisoy" also came to collect for Pinawin and Estrella.

"Kasinungalingan ang lahat ng sinabi ni Mae (Everything Mae said are lies),” Pinawin said, adding that any transaction between Escoto and Taguba was not sanctioned by him or Estrella.

Pinawin said Escoto’s husband is closely connected to Taguba as the former writes for the latter’s Customs newsletter.

Pinawin also denied trying to confiscate Escoto’s sim card. “Wala akong pinapakuhang sim card (I didn't ask to confiscate any sim cards),” he said.

“I categorically deny receiving money from Mark Taguba,” Estrella said.

Taguba narrated incidents of Pinawin’s team allegedly committing corrupt acts while conducting raids.

On one occasion, Taguba said Pinawin extorted P3 million from his friend Andrew Chan, and at another time, Pinawin’s team sought to shut down the CCTV of a warehouse.

Taguba said Estrella couldn’t seem to control his men at the CIIS.

“Pag nakakausap ko si direktor (Estrella), ang sinasabi niya “ang mga bata ko talaga masasama.” Ang tingin ko po hindi niya makontrol mga tao niya,” Taguba said.

(Whenever I talk to Director Estrella, he tells me his men are bad guys. My reading is that he can't control his men.)

The hearing is ongoing as of posting time. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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