MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3 – 3:33 p.m.) Resigned Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who said he was staying away as a “protest” and snubbed Thursday’s Blue Ribbon hearing into corruption issues at the Senate and the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of crystal meth, or “shabu,” faces a contempt citation and indefinite detention if he again skips the next hearing on Monday, Sept. 11, the Blue Ribbon chair said.
Davao Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and his brother-in-law Atty. Manases Carpio attended Thursday’s continuation of the Senate inquiry, but Faeldon was absent and instead sent a sharply worded letter that several senators agreed had bordered on contempt.
Blue Ribbon chair Sen. Richard Gordon consulted his peers, including Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and said at the end of the hearing that while he was already inclined to have Faeldon cited for contempt, he would give him a chance to reconsider and attend the next hearing.
At the start of Thursday’s hearing, Faeldon submitted a letter inviting lawmakers to file charges and said he was no longer attending the inquiry because “I no longer have faith in the impartiality of some of its members who have lied to malign me” and other resource persons, particularly the officials he took with him to the Bureau of Customs.
It was apparently a reference to an earlier privilege speech of Senator Panfilo Lacson, who accused him and other Customs officials of accepting “tara,” or bribes, to facilitate the release of shipments, including contraband and to similar allegations raised by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Faeldon, in turn, claimed Lacson’s son Panfilo Jr. was engaged in smuggling billions of pesos worth of cement.
Both senators and Faeldon are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy and former servicemen.
“So that the Senate and public would know what happened, I strongly urge senators and congressmen to immediately file cases against me and my team,” Faeldon said, adding he and his relatives are ready to sign waivers to open their bank accounts.
While maintain he holds the Senate in high respect, Faeldon said, “I want my team and I to be the last victims of baseless accusations (and) condemnation.”
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee conducting the inquiry, said Faeldon’s “remarks are contemptuous” and said he would call a meeting of his colleagues to decide what to do with the former Customs chief.
In Malacañang meanwhile, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the appearance of the son and son-in-law of President Rodrigo Duterte “demonstrates that both gentlemen are willing and ready to face malicious allegations intended to impugn their character and credibility.”
“The President has said in numerous occasions that he would not interfere and he believes that both gentlemen, Vice Mayor Duterte and Atty. Carpio, can hold their own at the Senate,” Abella said.
The vice mayor and Carpio, along with Davao Councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera, have been tagged as members of the so-called “Davao group” who allegedly facilitate the quick release of shipments through Customs.
Earlier, the president defended his son and son-in-law and publicly advised them not to answer questions and instead invoke their right against self-incrimination if they attend the Senate inquiry.
The Davao vice mayor, before answering questions from Trillanes, read an opening statement in which he said he was appearing out of respect for the Senate and because “once and for all I now have the time to deny any and all baseless allegations thrown against me.”
Switching to Bisaya, he also said he had to “fight” for his family, especially his children, who he said “have been most affected by these attacks on me.”
He also called his presence “for the Filipno people and fellow Davaoeños whom I serve” but apologized because “I cannot answer allegations based on hearsay.”
Carpio also gave an opening statement in which he complained that he “and my brother-in-law have been publicly crucified based on rumors and gossip” and denied knowing customs broker Mark Ruben Taguba, the key witness in the probe who raised their names in connection with the Davao group.
Carpio said his profession “involves representing my clients in courts and other government institutions, including the Bureau of Customs,” where he said the case he was working on “dates back to the administration of President Aquino.”
“I am here before this committee to formally declare that I have no knowledge of or involvement in the illegal drugs shipment which is the subject matter of this inquiry,” he added. (with a report from Maricel Halili, News5)
THE LIST OF RESOURCE PERSONS INVITED TO THE SENATE INQUIRY INTO ‘SHABU‘ SMUGGLING: