Politicians, traders hold sway at Customs

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte poses for a photo with newly-appointed Bureau of Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero following the latter's oath-taking ceremony at the Presidential Guest House in Davao City on October 30, 2018. JOEY DALUMPINES/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Apart from the presence of corrupt employees and officials, another major stumbling block in reforming the graft-ridden Bureau of Customs (BoC) is “external influence” either from powerful politicians or big businessmen.

A reliable source of the Daily Tribune, who has first-hand experience in BoC dealings, stressed that even the cleanest and honest men could not do much to reform the agency if it is not insulated from outside influence.

“It’s really politicized, plus there are really people — apart from some unscrupulous officials and personnel of BoC — who are benefiting hugely from the rotten Customs system,” the source told the Daily Tribune in an interview.

“One thing that nobody can deny is that many are gaining from the corrupt system, including big business,” the source added.

In fact, at least two former commissioners supposedly created their “political maps” wherein they listed the politician-backers of certain Customs officials down to district collectors.

“So that they will know who are the padrinos of these Customs personnel and would not dare to touch them to avoid any confrontation with politician-backers,” the source explained.

On the part of the big businessmen, the source said they can use their political influence to facilitate and fast-track their shipment.

The source said President Rodrigo Duterte’s style of leadership could be the answer to the BoC woes.

No micromanager

During the previous administration, former President Benigno Aquino appointed even the deputy commissioners, he said.

“He (Mr. Duterte) allows his appointees to bring in their own people to the agency. That is crucial in BoC. A commissioner has to have the full support of his deputies,” the source said.

“The deputy commissioners must recognize that without the commissioner, they are nothing…but when deputy commissioners are presidential appointees just like the commissioner, they can go against the commissioner and report directly to the President, there is a big problem there,” the source added.

Asked of the perception of a pervasive corrupt culture at the bureau, the source replied “I would say yes…up to now, corruption is widespread.”

The source said one can confirm the corrupt system by talking to a broker, ask about the cost of shipping a container van into the country and readily the broker can provide the cost even without declaring what goods the importer is bringing in.

“They (brokers) already inputted the grease money in the cost of shipment, there is a standard grease money without probing what goods the importer is bringing in,” the source said.

No opening fee

“Supposed to be it is a transaction method of valuation, it means the duties and taxes are based on the cost of goods an importer is shipping. An importer would only know how much is due to him or her after making declaration, not prior to declaration,” the source further explained.

Currently, a broker could offer a package of “no opening” of cargo at P120,000 per container van.

“That is where the contraband gets in. The system becomes prone to smuggling of illegal goods, including drugs,” the source lamented.

Two Duterte-appointed commissioners have been relieved from BoC after P17 billion worth of shabu shipment was discovered to have been smuggled into the country under the nose of Customs officials.

Last year, former Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon left Customs after P6.4 billion worth of shabu was seized in a warehouse in Valenzuela City.

Last week, former police general Isidro Lapeña was relieved as BoC commissioner after admitting the possibility that P11 billion worth of shabu was indeed loaded into four magnetic lifters found abandoned in Cavite.

The President tapped former military chief and Maritime Industry Authority head Rey Leonardo Guerrero as new BoC commissioner and ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to take over Customs.

Correct view

For his move, Mr. Duterte did not refute observations he is “militarizing” the government.
Speaking at the distribution of certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to farmers in Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday night, Mr. Duterte said claims that his administration is being militarized are “correct,” stressing it is his way of addressing corruption and other illegal acts in government.

“They say it’s militarization of the government, correct,” Mr. Duterte said.

The President has been hounded with criticisms for appointing former police and military generals to positions not necessarily related to maintaining safety and security.

Still, he justified his preference for former military men, citing their obedience and the ability to do their job almost instantaneously.

His penchant for appointing former officers to key civilian positions, Mr. Duterte said, was his belief that they are less likely to “argue” with him when it comes to implementing policies.

“Do you think Boracay would have been cleaned up if it weren’t for Año and Cimatu? Año is from the DILG and Cimatu was once assigned to Davao. The money would probably have all been spent within a week,” the President added, referring to Eduado Año and Roy Cimatu, both former chiefs of staff of the AFP.

Now you have a problem

Both were used as examples by the Chief Executive on the efficiency of retired uniformed men serving in his Cabinet. Año and Cimatu were praised for their work in cleaning and rehabilitating the world-renowned island of Boracay which Duterte once called a cesspool.

“They will really do it. You know, that’s why I like military men. There are very few of us remaining who are (not from the military). Almost everyone is from the military, except for me, Dabs (presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers and Muslim Concerns Secretary Abdullah Mama-o) and (Executive Secretary Salvador) Medialdea,” the President stated.

The Chief Executive was called out anew after recently announcing the “takeover” of the AFP at the BoC. Active military personnel, as stated in the 1987 Constitution, are prohibited from being appointed or designated to civilian posts in any capacity at any given time.

Malacañang, however, defended the move, saying soldiers to be deployed in the BoC will merely be there to “intimidate” and instill a certain level of fear to corrupt personnel within the agency.

“I will not sit as President and let you render me inutile as you continue with your corruption there in Customs right in front of me. Son of a whore. Now you have a problem,” the President stressed.

Augmentation force

“But why is it that many entered into shabu? Don’t tell me that they’re… They managed to get past… (ex-Customs chief Nicanor) Faeldon is a Marine, Sid is a police… They do not know the… so I said men from the Army might be better. And then I had them trained to read, operate the X-Ray machine,” he added.

Guerrero clarified that there will be no militarization in the agency, noting that soldiers will only be deployed to assist the Customs personnel.

Guerrero is also a former AFP chief of staff.

Duterte also defended Faeldon and Lapeña despite huge shabu shipments that entered the country under their watch and pointed out that he is not against bureaucracy.

“I said do it randomly or forcibly open everything. They will really do it. You know, that’s why I like military men. There are very few of us remaining who are… Almost everyone is from the military, except for me, Dabs and Medialdea,” Duterte said.

“I don’t have anything against the bureaucracy, but the bureaucracy will take you forever.
They will even debate with you. You have a disaster, a fire, a flood, but the fools there would reportedly be still drinking,” he added.

with Kristina Maralit and Elmer N. Manuel

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