LTFRB Bicol director fired over alleged extortion

MANILA -- The director of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in the Bicol Region on Wednesday was sacked from his post following a probe on his alleged involvement in extortion activities.

The dismissal of Vladimir Custer Santiago Kahulugan, Director II of LTFRB Bicol Region, was stated in a letter from MalacaƱang dated November 28 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

“Pursuant to the instructions of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, please be informed that your appointment as Director II, LTFRB is hereby terminated effective immediately,” the letter read.

In a bulletin issued by the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Kahulugan was dismissed after an investigation uncovered his involvement, along with several others, in an extortion scheme where they demanded monthly “protection” payment from bus and UV Express operators in Bicol Region.

The DOTr said the investigation was conducted by the department’s Investigation, Security, and Law Enforcement Staff (ISLES) under OIC Undersecretary for Administrative Service Artemio Tuazon Jr.

Also found involved in the scheme were Narciso Juntereal, Robert Pacurib, Jose Pado, and Eduardo Felix, all members of the LTFRB Enforcement Team.

The four other suspects remain at-large after they eluded an entrapment operation by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Albay Provincial Unit on July 11, the DOTr said.

It added the entrapment operation was conducted after a bus operator complained of being a victim of extortion and sought help from the police.

Aside from their alleged involvement in extortion, Kahulugan and his cohorts were also found to be involved in “hulidap” schemes where public utility vehicles were apprehended even without violations and later released in exchange for payment.

According to informants in the investigation, Kahulugan also solicited cash from bus operators to fund the LTFRB Bicol Region’s celebration of the LTFRB anniversary and connived with accomplices at the Bicol Inter-agency Road Safety Operation (BIARSO) to extort money from apprehended vehicles.

The DOTr said BIARSO was supposed to be an anti-colorum group organized by Kahulugan in partnership with the Regional Office 5 of the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group -- but was eventually used in his schemes.

Following the conclusion of the three-month probe, the ISLES recommended the filing of criminal charges against Kahulugan and the deactivation of the BIARSO to DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade.

The DOTr chief lauded ISLES for its investigation and stressed that the termination of Kahulugan was proof of the agency’s proactive stance against corruption.

“Walang puwang sa DOTr at sa administrasyon ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ang mga corrupt! Hindi alam ng mga gaya ninyo ang tunay na kahulugan ng serbisyo publiko (There’s no place in the DOTr or in President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration for the corrupt! These people don’t know the true meaning of public service)," Tugade said.

Tuazon said the probe performed by his office was a continuing warning against corrupt government officials.

“We are sending a strong message to everyone here at the DOTr and our attached agencies. Kung akala niyo makakalusot kayo, nagkakamali kayo. Mahuhuli at mahuhuli rin kayo (If you think you can get past us, you’re making a mistake. You will be caught eventually),” Tuazon said. (PNA)