Koko Pimentel says no evidence vs Paolo Duterte on smuggling

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said there is no evidence that presidential son and Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte is involved in smuggling.

Pimentel's statement came after a Bureau of Customs (BOC) broker and fixer on Tuesday, August 22, claimed that he personally paid Paolo Duterte's "friend" and "handler" in exchange for swift transactions.

"Madali gumawa ng kwento but kwento is not evidence (It's easy to create stories but stories are not evidence)," Pimentel said in a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday.

Customs broker Mark Taguba claimed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that he gave P5 million as initial payment to Davao City Councilor Nilo "Small" Abellera Jr and to a certain Jack, Vice Mayor Duterte's alleged handler. The two are supposedly members of the so-called Davao Group, known to have strong connections inside the BOC.

Also during the Senate hearing, opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV said Abellera is a known "friend" of the vice mayor, even showing pictures of the two. Trillanes also reiterated his claim that the younger Duterte was clearly linked to smuggling.

Despite this, Pimentel sees no reason to invite Paolo Duterte to the Senate just yet.

"Why not call the friend first? Ganoon muna (Let's do that first). We follow the evidence, we do not follow immediately all the stories. Madali lang po talaga gumawa ng storya ngayon (It's really easy to make up stories nowadays)," Pimentel said.

The Senate President is a staunch ally of President Rodrigo Duterte and is the president of the ruling party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

Senator Richard Gordon, another administration senator, earlier said there was no proof linking the presidential son to the P6.4 billion worth of smuggled shabu from China, the subject of the Senate blue ribbon committee probe.

Shielding the President?

Despite his close ties to the executive, Pimentel denied shielding the President and his family from controversies. (READ: Koko Pimentel: His father's son, the President's 'protector')

Pimentel said such criticism hardly affects him because he is "not doing that."

"Wala (Nothing); we're not doing that. I know there is criticism but I am personally not hurt because I'm not doing that. I am a party mate of the President, I am the follower of the President but we will follow the evidence," he said.

Pimentel added that he would also keep a close watch over serious allegations against Duterte.

"We will also follow serious and grave charges. 'Wag naman kada lahat na lang ng kritisismo (but not each and every criticism), as if the President can do nothing right – that's also an attitude which is also objectionable or wrong," he said.

Pimentel is a strong supporter of Duterte's bloody drug war and his declaration of martial law in Mindanao, where the senator hails from. He had also defended the President against allegations that the Chief Executive ordered extrajudicial killings. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com