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Customs broker may apply for witness protection program — Aguirre

Mark Ruben Taguba II is taken into protective custody after he spoke with senators in an executive session. Photo by Christine Avendano/INQUIRER

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday said the broker who gave a detailed account on the extent of corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) during a congressional inquiry could seek government’s protection.

Customs broker Mark Ruben Taguba II appeared in both the House of Representatives and the Senate investigations regarding the P6.4-billion worth of shabu shipment from China.

He revealed in detail the amount of grease money he pays Customs officials in exchange for the release of a cargo.

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“Based on what I have heard, there is basis for him to apply [for Witness Protection Program] but of course, we will not jump the gun, we have to assess the qualifications,” Aguirre said.

“If he’s going to apply as a witness under the WPP then we have to consider. You have to submit an application, you make your affidavit and then we could give you immediately a provisional coverage but of course to be formally accepted, we have to assess the affidavits whether you are qualified or not under the WPP,” Aguirre said.

WPP is a program established under Republic Act No. 6981, “The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act,” which seeks to encourage a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or quasi-judicial body, or before an investigating authority, by protecting him from reprisals and from economic dislocation.

The DOJ chief said that the WPP coverage is different from the legislative immunity granted by the House of Representatives or the protection given by the Senate to Taguba.

“Ours is immunity (from criminal prosecution) arising from being a witness under the WPP,” he added.

Aguirre did not confirm reports that Taguba already submitted an application for WPP coverage before the DOJ.

During the House hearing, Taguba identified five ranking officials of the BoC who received grease money in exchange for facilitating his shipments.

Taguba also revealed that prior to engaging EMT Trading and two other companies in a “consignee-for-hire” scheme, he had received assurances that shipments of new importers will be able to pass through BoC’s “green lane” at the port.

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Under the BoC’s computerized classification system, products imported to the country pass through four lanes, depending on the risk level: super-green, green, yellow, and red.

The shabu shipment consigned to EMT Trading passed through the green lane. Shipments tagged to pass through the green lane of the BoC are not required to undergo X-ray or manual inspection of its contents. JE

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