Paolo Duterte's 'friend' denies involvement in P6.4-B smuggled shabu

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Davao City Councilor Nilo "Small" Abellera Jr, a supposed "friend" of presidential son and Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, denied his involvement in the P6.4 billion worth of shabu smuggled from China.

Abellera was invited to the Senate probe into the shabu smuggling on Tuesday, August 29, but did not attend. In a letter sent to the Senate blue ribbon committee, Abellera said he had no "knowledge" of and "participation" in drug smuggling.

"I hereby state I have no knowledge, let alone any participation [in] the shipment of shabu from China," Abellera said in his affidavit.

In his letter, Abellera said he was still recovering from "hypertensive urgency." He said he was advised by doctors to rest for two to 4 weeks and to "avoid stress."

Abellera also said that he could attend hearings should they be set on August 31 and September 4. 

Customs broker and "fixer" Mark Taguba earlier said he met Abellera and a certain Jack in Davao City in January 2017. He said he paid them an initial P5 million for smooth transactions in the BOC. (READ: Customs broker: Paolo Duterte's 'friend, handler' got bribe money).

It was unclear, however, if this included the shipment of 604 kilos of shabu from China.

On top of the P5 million "enrollment fee," Taguba said he paid the so-called Davao Group P10,000 per container. Taguba said he averaged 100 containers a week, amounting to P1 million. Jack, he said, would fly to Manila every Friday to get the money from him.

Jack is the supposed "handler" of Paolo Duterte, according to a text message read by Taguba in a previous hearing. 

"I vehemently deny Mr Taguba's allegations for being false, baseless, and malicious," Abellera said.

In defense of Paolo Duterte 

Abellera admitted meeting Jack and Taguba but said he did not know the topic, at first. He said it was Jack who called him up to set a meeting and since he was available that day, Abellera agreed to meet with him at a restaurant.

The councilor said Jack showed up with Taguba, whom he claimed he did not know at the time, and asked for a meeting with the presidential son.

"When I arrived at the resto bar, Jack was already there accompanied by a young person whom I didn't know at the time. Jack told me he was representing a certain customs broker and asked me if I could arrange a meeting between the said customs broker and Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte," Abellera said.

Abellera defended the vice mayor. He claimed he declined Jack's request for a meeting with Paolo Duterte as the latter was not involved in "such matters."

"Knowing that the Vice Mayor does not involve himself with such matters, I politely told Jack that I could not arrange such meeting. It was then that Jack introduced me to his companion who turned out to be Mark Taguba. After about 5 to 10 minutes, I excused myself from the two gentlemen and left," he claimed, adding it was the last time he encountered Taguba.

Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had claimed that Abellera was a "friend" of Paolo Duterte and earlier showed pictures to support this. 

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III earlier told Rappler there was no evidence linking Paolo Duterte to drug smuggling.

President Rodrigo Duterte, for his part, had said on several occasions that he would resign if there is evidence linking any of his children to corruption. – 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

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