A spike in revenue collections does not necessarily reflect a healthy and efficient system at the Bureau of Customs (BoC).
Former BoC Commissioner and now Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, in an interview by the Daily Tribune, stressed the bureau has three primary mandates — revenue collection, border security and trade facilitation.
“Focusing only on one of the three mandates will adversely affect the others,” Biazon said.
“It’s really a balancing act. It’s not a guarantee that when you get high revenue collections everything is good, everything is healthy because you can actually use the crooked system to get more revenue,” he added.
Only recently, President Rodrigo Duterte transferred Isidro Lapeña from the BoC to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority despite his meeting the agency’s revenue targets.
Lapeña’s relief came after the BoC failed to detect P11 billion worth of shabu hidden in four magnetic lifters.
A respected former police general, Lapeña was apparently duped by corrupt BoC personnel that allowed the release of the lifters from the port despite the previous seizure of two similar lifters that yielded P4.3 billion worth of shabu.
“The usual gauge of performance is collection…but look what happened to Commissioner Lapeña who has been meeting revenue targets but was forced out of office,” Biazon, who served as BoC commissioner during the previous Aquino administration, said.
“It’s really tough…so there should really be a balance of the three primary mandates,” he added.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency discovered the P11 billion shabu shipment after tracking down four magnetic lifters at a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez in Cavite last August.
In ordering Lapeña’s relief, the President tapped former military chief and Maritime Industry Authority head Rey Leonardo Guerrero as the new BoC commissioner and ordered soldiers to be deployed in the bureau.
Not the first
Lapeña was not the first Duterte-appointed BoC commissioner who was relieved due to shabu shipment that escaped detection at the port.
In 2017, his predecessor former Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon was also removed as BoC commissioner after Customs agents seized P6.4 billion worth of shabu from a warehouse in Valenzuela City. The illegal drugs were sealed inside metal cylinders that were shipped into the country using the port.
Meanwhile, a reliable BoC source said the President’s order to randomly open cargos for inspection by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines could address the smuggling of contraband but may lead to congestion if not properly implemented.
“I said do it randomly or forcibly open everything. They will really do it. You know, that’s why I like military men,” the President said Thursday, adding “I don’t have anything against the bureaucracy, but the bureaucracy will take you forever.
The source cited the prevailing corrupt system of “no opening” of cargoes being offered by unscrupulous BoC personnel, in connivance with brokers and importers, for a fee.
But the source stressed that there should be a well-planned system for the random inspection to avoid congestion.
“That can strengthen border security and law enforcement aspects but could end up in port congestion as actual inspection will definitely take additional time,” the source explained.