MANILA - Former Customs Intelligence Director Neil Estrella is the "primary operator" of senior officials in the bureau, Senator Antonio Trillanes claimed Thursday.
Trillanes said he has at least five informants—who are "working within Customs and those within the proximity of Customs operations"—who said Estrella knows the amount of bribes Customs officials supposedly get.
"They're saying various figures, but ultimately, it is Mr. Estrella who knows how much goes to who...Based on the information that we’re getting, he is the primary operator of the senior Customs officials," Trillanes told ANC's Early Edition.
Trillanes claimed to have an unofficial list of people at the bureau who are on the take. He alleged his fellow former mutineer, Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, was on this list.
But Estrella, who recently resigned from his post amid the controversy surrounding the bureau, denied the senator's allegation, saying he does not know Trillanes' motivation for such an accusation.
He also said that he was only a newcomer in the bureau, making it difficult for anyone in his position to control the higher-ups.
"I am probably a rookie in the Bureau of Customs and to handle senior officials is a very difficult task to do. We're still in the learning curve," he said in a separate interview with ANC's Headstart.
"The only thing I had when I went to Customs was the experience I had in the military. That’s why I didn’t anymore think of going into positions like collector or offices, and just to stay put with intelligence because that was my job before in the Armed Forces of the Philippines," he added.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are separately investigating the entry of 600 kilos of methamphetamine (shabu) from China to Manila.
It supposedly slipped past Customs' green lane, which has relatively relaxed security checks compared to the red and yellow lanes, last May. Acting on a tip from China, authorities eventually found the drug shipment in a warehouse in Valenzuela City.
Estrella said he was "shocked" that during the congressional hearings, "one of the principal suspects in this shipment is pointing at us."
"The motive is very clear. We were the people who brought these people into this controversy. I cannot do anything about it. When we started investigating and backtracking, these names came out—who owns CMT Trading, who facilitated, who brokered, who posed as middlemen, etc," he said.
"We were the same team who brought these people to the NBI. It was not the NBI; we were the team that brought these people to the National Bureau of Investigation so they will be investigated. From there, we did not anymore interact with the NBI people because we don’t want to influence the NBI with their ongoing investigation," he added.
Estrella believes private broker Mark Taguba is being coached to destroy the credibility of the bureau and to shift the blame over the shabu shipment.
"Taguba has the biggest motive. We were the team who brought him to NBI, we busted the drugs, it was our team who discovered a lot of personalities," he said.
"If there are people to be blamed, it wasn't us. We just turned it over to other agencies. I cannot blame him, they really need to destory our credibility. He was coached, our credibility should be tested," he added.
Despite the calls from lawmakers for Faeldon to step down, Estrella is standing by his former boss, saying he is an honest official and many people are interested in usurping his position.
"I think Faeldon has the heart to do the job...he needs somebody to assist him in tech matters. Our job is to collect revenue, we don't have background in numbers but Faeldon has the heart to serve. What he needs are good people, and number 1 mission is revenue collection," he said.