The Ser Davos of Davao
Ser Davos Seaworth is a character in the popular HBO hit series Game of Thrones, a sword-and-sorcery epic set in the mythical land of Westeros. Already running 7 seasons, the series has garnered a huge local following through the years, with fans invariably relating stories and sub-plots to real-life local personalities and our day-to-day travails in Philippine society and politics. Before becoming a valuable lieutenant of two kings, Ser Davos was the most famous smuggler in King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, and thereabouts.
Ser Davos is also known in Westeros as the “Onion Knight,” since he earned his royal title when he smuggled onions to a besieged castle, thus saving the king’s brother. However, in exchange for a royal title and his enlistment into the king’s service, Davos had to cut off 4 fingers of one hand, as punishment for his years of smuggling and depriving the crown of its rightful tax and duties on the smuggled goods.
Fans of GOT, as the series is popularly abbreviated, may realize that in real life, however, smugglers rarely get punished, especially well-connected ones. Fans of Ser Davos will be right to protest using his story as a segue to the story of Paolo Duterte, and say Davos is nothing like Polong. Supporters of Paolo Duterte, like Malacañang, will claim that stories about Paolo as the smuggling lord of Davao are all lies. My apology goes to the fans of Ser Davos.
The recent drug-smuggling controversy where the name of the presidential son was dragged involve P6.4-billion worth of shabu hidden in metal cylinders that took a metal-grinder to open. A broker who stood as a witness in the Senate investigation claimed that a supposed Davao Group rumored to be led by the younger Duterte was pulling strings at the Bureau of Customs on this particular drug shipment.
But the history of Polong, the alleged smuggling king of Davao, did not start here. (READ: FAST FACTS: Who is Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte?)
Official records of his involvement in smuggling in Davao surfaced as early as 2007, when the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the NBI, using the same source, tagged him as mastermind, together with a certain Glen Escandor, son of a Colonel Escandor.
Colonel Escandor is known in Davao as the owner of the Royal Mandaya Hotel and the DASIA Security Agency, whose armored van was used by the ISIS/Maute group in their attack and occupation of Marawi. Colonel Escandor is also being linked as a business partner of President Duterte. (READ: Paolo Duterte a 'smuggler'? Trillanes releases documents anew)
The official government memorandum stated that Paolo and Escandor were smuggling sports utility vehicles from the USA and Japan, and sold them in a showroom located near SM Davao City. Together with Paolo’s wife, the two also smuggled used clothing (ukay-ukay), rice, and sugar.
Later on, direct testimony surfaced during the Senate investigation on the Davao Death Squad (DDS) conducted in 2016 and early this year, where self-confessed DDS members Edgar Matobato and SPO3 Arturo Lascañas revealed that in addition to having personal enemies – such as Cebu City businessman Richard King – killed, Paolo was also directly involved in the smuggling of shiploads of rice, oil, and quite possibly, even drugs.
In both his Senate testimony as well as affidavit submitted to the Ombudsman to support the murder charges he filed against President Duterte as the leader of the DDS, Matobato pointed out that Paolo used the DDS in its smuggling operations as a sideline and source of extra income for the group. He said the group mainly smuggled rice from Taiwan. Matobato himself acted as a bagman for the group, delivering P3 million contained in duffle bags to bribe Customs officials at Davao’s Sasa Wharf. The smuggled used-clothing business is also owned by Paolo’s wife.
Matobato added that Paolo is friends with known Chinese drug lords, including the leader of a carnapping syndicate, as he hangs out with them in exclusive night clubs in Davao City.
Recently, in the course of the recent P6.4-billion shabu smuggling controversy, photos of Paolo with a certain Kenneth Dong and Charlie Tan were circulated in social media. The former has already been implicated in the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling and recently testified at the Senate. Charlie Tan, for his part, is a Taiwanese national who owns a KTV bar in Ecoland, Davao City.
Matobato also claimed that a leader of a carnapping syndicate was saved from assassination by the DDS because he was protected by Paolo.
Drugs in Paolo’s furniture
According to Lascañas in his testimony before the Senate, Paolo once sought his assistance in a supposed entrapment operation involving a shipment of smuggled drugs.
His story went that Paolo’s friend, the Taiwanese Charlie Tan, requested that packages containing drugs be concealed in a container van of furniture shipped from China, with Paolo as the consignee. The furniture and other personal effects were supposedly bought by Paolo from China in time for the inauguration of his new house. Charlie Tan was just using the container van of furniture to hitch his shipment of drugs.
The container van was supposed to be delivered to the barangay hall of Catalunan Grande, Davao City, where Paolo was the Barangay Captain. Before Lascañas apprehended the container van containing Paolo’s furniture and Tan’s suspected shipment of drugs, Paolo called him and asked Lascañas to just let him take care of the container van. Paolo said “pa-arbor na lang.” And that was the last Lascañas heard of Charlie Tan’s shipment of drugs concealed in Paolo’s furniture.
Amidst the resurfacing of his son’s name in drug smuggling, President Duterte challenged the public to show him the affidavit implicating his son in the smuggling of the P6.4-billion of shabu, and he will resign.
Malacañang spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that Paolo is being tried by publicity, and that the photographs showing him in drinking sprees and other convivial occasions with Charlie Tan and Kenneth Dong don’t prove anything.
Abella challenged the public to file charges against Paolo if the accusations are true.
What Duterte and Abella are not saying is that there is already an affidavit – in fact, two affidavits and recorded testimonies in Senate investigations – and at least one criminal complaint already filed with the Ombudsman against Paolo. These affidavits and testimonies are those of Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, attesting under oath that Paolo Duterte is the smuggling lord of Davao City, specializing in the smuggling of SUVs, rice, oil, and used clothing, and paying off Customs officials in the amount of P3 million per shipment.
Telltale signs of his involvement in drug trafficking are contained in Lascañas’ testimony about drugs suspected to be hidden in his shipment of furniture from China.
On December 2016, Matobato already submitted his affidavit to the Ombudsman in support of his criminal complaint for murder, kidnapping, torture, and crimes against humanity against President Duterte, Paolo, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa, and 25 other members of the Davao Death Squad. The affidavit includes Matobato’s allegations of Paolo’s smuggling activities in Davao City.
As such, in so far as accusations of Paolo’s involvement in smuggling are concerned, there is already a case filed before the Ombudsman. It is now only a matter of further fact-finding investigation left for the Ombudsman to conduct.
Hopefully, before the one-year anniversary of the filing of Matobato’s criminal complaint, and before the retirement of Ombudsman Carpio-Morales early next year, a preliminary investigation is conducted and criminal charges are filed against Paolo before the Sandiganbayan.
Of course, it may take a long time before justice catches up with the so-called smuggling lord of Davao City.
Maybe not during the reign of his father, whose first promise was to kill his own son if he was proven to be involved in drugs, a promise which was later on downgraded to him resigning as President.
For the son of the Davao Mayor and now Philippine President who has distinguished himself all over the world with his swift brand of street justice, there appears to be no end in sight for the invocation of due process and presumption of innocence in favor of Paolo Duterte.
All of a sudden, innocence in the absence of proof and no punishment without a fair trial are again the norms, as the extrajudicial killing of 12,000 (and counting) drug suspects who never saw the inside of a courtroom is conveniently forgotten.
There are now two kinds of justice in the Philippines. One for the ordinary scum of the earth, and then another for the untouchable kind of scum. For these people, we would be lucky to even witness the Westeros king’s justice of lopping off the smuggler lord’s fingers.
More often than not, criminals in government eventually find a way to consolidate power in an absolute manner. And when they do, they become what we call "Untouchables." When that happens, neither law nor justice can touch them, not even the Magdalo warriors of the Bureau of Customs. – Rappler.com
Senator Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since her arrest on drug-related charges on February 24, 2017. She is a former justice secretary and chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.