National security involved

Corruption and the lack of advanced technology became a perfect mix for the easy entry of illegal shipments, including narcotics.

The introduction of an automated tracking system in the Bureau of Customs and local ports has become a matter of the highest concern due to the persistent attempts of drug syndicates to pierce through the country’s borders.

As a result of the sustained campaign against narcotics since the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte, nearly all of the illegal substances sold in the country are shipped from abroad.

One of the landmark cases in the war on drugs in the previous administration happened in 2017 when the Bureau of Customs sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the contents of five metal cylinders from China that were found to contain over 600 kilograms of shabu.

The use of metal cylinders to slip in over 600 kilos of shabu became known through information provided by Chinese authorities.

Among the findings from the probe was that the deeply-rooted and pervasive tara system that drug traffickers exploit to smuggle in illicit drugs and other products was behind the resistance to modernizing the system for one that would restrict human contact.

In a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing held on the controversy, it was revealed that through the tara system, customs officials were paid grease money for the release of importations as a matter of practice in local ports.

The Trusted Operator Program–Container Registry Monitoring System or TOP-CRMS and Empty Container Storage Shared Service facility were recently presented to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in a Private Sector Advisory Council meeting where Marcos expressed his frustration over the current Customs system that is “not working” to stop smuggling.

The automated system would limit interaction between Customs personnel and traders once it is implemented.

Under the tara system, according to the Senate resource person from the private sector, BoC insiders provide the syndicates with codes and other ways their shipments may get clearance.

Traffickers would only need to pay the tax on the goods where the narcotics are stashed and the shipment is released without inspection.

Discretion is thus given almost entirely to the inspectors despite there being established procedures.

In the NBI investigation conducted into BoC operations from 31 March 2017 to 29 May 2017, out of 664 shipments of the trader invited in the Senate probe, 532 were cleared without inspection, 123 were given a yellow tag and only nine underwent the usual checks.

Cargo given the yellow tag was subjected to only a documentary check.

The consignee used by the trader was also a new importer and a sole proprietor, which should have been subjected to full inspection as a high-risk player.

Bringing in illicit drugs in large volumes through the ports has become an easier and perhaps cheaper mode for drug traffickers, which was one of the findings in the Senate probe.

Corruption and the lack of advanced technology became a perfect mix for the easy entry of illegal shipments, including narcotics.

Recently, the volume of illegal drugs being intercepted at the country’s ports has been rising which means that smuggling through the ports is again a preferred way of entry.

Marcos in emphasizing the need to digitalize showed his appreciation of the problem.

His marching orders must be carried out to the hilt since the national interest, as a result of the renewed vigor of drug syndicates, is at stake.

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