MANILA, July 29, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Evelyn Macairan - 3rd Customs exec resigns.

 “Powerful forces” are making it difficult for officials to implement much-needed reforms in the Bureau of Customs (BOC), former Army general Danilo Lim said yesterday.

A day after tendering his resignation as BOC intelligence chief, Lim said these forces are making it difficult for him to stay in the agency.

“There are really a lot of forces, powerful forces, who dip their fingers and interfere. I told (Executive Secretary Paquito) Ochoa if you can give me an agency, even a small one, for as long as I have control I will deliver,” Lim said over the radio dzMM.

Customs Deputy Commissioner for Internal Administration Group Juan Lorenzo Tañada also sent his resignation, via text message, making him the third Customs official to resign since Monday.

According to Lim, he had already asked Ochoa six times to transfer him to another agency.

He explained his request was not an indication that he could not do the task given to him, but it was really difficult to do his job well in the BOC, especially if he does not have control over the situation.

Lim mentioned in his resignation letter that he is giving up the BOC post because he is “privy to the truths that rang out” in President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

For instance, Lim said, a shipment would be placed on alert, and soon, there would be calls and requests. There are instances when some of the requests involve contraband goods.

If he does not grant their requests, Lim said he would end up a victim of nasty rumors.

Lim admitted that after joining the Customs bureau, the job took a toll on his health, and he had to take maintenance medication for his blood pressure.

Lim submitted his resignation the other day following the courtesy resignation of Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon.

Lim said he wanted another job, and was looking forward to working with former senator Panfilo Lacson, who is reportedly expected to lead an agency that would be created by President Aquino.

Customs Deputy Commissioner for Internal Administration Group (IAG) Juan Lorenzo Tañada also sent his resignation via text message to Biazon, asking him to relay his message to the President.

Tañada also agreed the Customs bureau has its share of “bad eggs.”

He said it was not easy to go against syndicates in the bureau.

Tañada said there were instances where the padrinos would surface, when politicians or persons of influence would call him for favors. Tañada, however, declined to name names.

He also bared cases when someone would call for favors, such as to provide employment in Customs or promote an employee in the agency.

“I can see that the problem in the bureau is well entrenched in the system. Definitely, it cannot be cured in just 20-25 months. There should really be reform, there should really be a system where we would be able to uproot the roots (of illegal activities) which have been there for 30 years,” he said.

‘A statement of frustration’

After Biazon, Lim and Tañada tendered their resignations, four other Customs deputy commissioners kept mum and have not expressed any interest to resign from their posts.

They are Deputy Commissioner for Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group Prudencio Reyes Jr., Deputy Commissioner for Revenue Collection Monitoring Group Peter Manzano, Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement Group Horacio Suansing Jr., and Deputy Commissioner for Management Information System and Technology Group Ma. Caridad Manarang.

When asked if he would ask the four other Customs officials to tender their resignations, Biazon said there was no need for him to order them since they are also presidential appointees.

“The President has already spoken… In this case, they are presidential appointees and it was the President who appointed them. If I was the one who appointed them, I would have the moral position to say, ‘Hey, you should resign.’ But they are presidential appointees,” he said.

Even when he was still Muntinlupa City representative, Biazon said it was never his style to ask someone to resign.

Biazon said he has already set an example when he offered to resign minutes after President Aquino finished his SONA last Monday.

“I do not need to make a directive to them,” he said.

When he asked if he was pleased that two other deputy commissioners have at least offered to quit, Biazon replied, “For me, we would be able to prove to the President that we heard what he said if more would respond” through resignation.

Biazon described the President’s criticism against the Customs bureau in his SONA as a “statement of frustration.”

Biazon stressed he would leave it to the other Customs officials to follow his example.

He said he maintains a professional relationship with his deputy commissioners and their performances are being reviewed quarterly.

For his part, Tañada explained he was only able to relay his offer to resign through text message last Tuesday since he was in Baguio City during the SONA.

He said he heard Biazon’s offer to resign right after the SONA and decided to follow his example.

Since he became part of the BOC family 18 months ago, this was the first time Tañada submitted a letter of resignation.

“As a good soldier, I decided to do what Commissioner Biazon did which is, of course, as courtesy, to give our Chief Executive free rein to determine whether… we still enjoy his confidence and if he still believes that we are fit to carry out our duties as deputy commissioners,” Tañada said.

Apart from the text message, Tañada said he was planning to write a formal letter of resignation and submit it to Malacañang. He clarified it would only be a courtesy resignation.

Tañada also said he was willing to stay on at the BOC and work with Biazon. He and Biazon have been friends for a long time.

“Well definitely, if the President retains, has enough trust and confidence in us to stay in office, we’re more than willing (to stay). As I told the commissioner yesterday, it has been an honor and a privilege to be here in this office,” he said.

Lim, on other hand, said he will continue supporting President Aquino and the government even after his resignation from Customs.

“Whether am out or with the government, I will continue to support this government. We should support this government even as a civil servant or in a private capacity,” Lim said.

Just like Biazon, Lim said he decided to quit his post as Customs intelligence chief after hearing the SONA, where the President singled out the bureau as one of the government agencies that failed to meet expectations in his righteous path policy.

Lim said he immediately prepared his resignation letter and had this received by Malacañang through the office of Executive Secretary Ochoa.

Malacañang, however, is waiting on President Aquino to act on Lim’s resignation.

“We have no word yet on the action taken. So let’s just wait for any response and we will announce it as soon as we have word,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

Lacierda, however, did not mention Tañada’s resignation.

“In the case of Deputy Commissioner Tañada, the Office of the Executive Secretary has not received the letter yet,” he said.

Lim was among the senior military officers linked to a series of coup attempts against then President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Under the Aquino administration, Lim was designated as Customs intelligence chief, a sensitive position whose primary task is to address the rampant smuggling activities in the country.

However, despite Lim’s presence in the graft-ridden bureau and his continuing moves to address illegal activity, he has apparently failed to dismantle well-entrenched smuggling operations. – Jaime Laude, Delon Porcalla

Tañada: Senate, Congress 'forces' at work in Customs By Camille Diola ( | Updated July 25, 2013 - 10:01am

In this June 2013 photo, Bureau of Customs Deputy Commissioner Lorenzo Tañada (left) attends the World Customs Organization Conference in Brussels, Belgium with Commissioner Ruffy Biazon.

MANILA, Philippines - Bureau of Customs Deputy Commissioner Juan Lorenzo Tañada, who proposed to step down from his post, confirmed that there are politicians that are serving as de facto forces running the agency.

In a radio interview on Thursday, Tañada affirmed Commissioner Ruffy Biazon's and Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim's statement that "political backers" and "powerful forces" are making their calls in the controversial bureau.

Asked if there are senators and congressmen who ask favors from Customs officials, Tañada answered that "there are ... even fake relatives of those with high positions also make calls."

"Madalas po 'yan lalo na sa hiring and promotion ang assignment ng mga tao," Tañada said.

Tañada added that it will take at least 12 years to weed out Customs officials involved in anomalous practices and to reform the bureau.

"At least 30 taon 'yung naka-ugat na tiwaling practices d'yan sa bureau. Kailangan po siguro minimum dalawang termino ng administrasyon ... 12 (na) taon," he said.

Biazon and Lim earlier offered to leave their posts after President Benigno Aquino III berated the agency in his State of the Nation Address for inefficiency. Aquino, however, rejected their resignations.

In previous interviews, Lim admitted that he had no choice but to grant favors to political entities at work in the agency.

"Napipilitan tayo. Kung minsan, nagba-balancing act. Kung minsan, 'pag hindi mo napagbigyan, may sasama ang loob, magtatampo. Dahil may mga tinatamaan, minsan iba na 'yung kwento na lumalabas na ikinakalat, baligtad na, ikaw na ang may kalokohan. Ganyan sa bureau," Lim said.

Ruffy asks Customs 'kings' to leave posts By Camille Diola ( | Updated July 26, 2013 - 4:00pm

Customs Commissioner Rufino "Ruffy" Biazon

MANILA, Philippines - Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Friday ordered the reassignment of all district collectors in response to President Benigno Aquino III's haranguing in his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Biazon announced in a press conference that he asked all district heads called "Kings" as well as sub-port collectors, port and sub-port officers to relinquish their positions through writing as part of the "reforms" in the agency.

"There are 17 kings, not three kings. That is figurative speech. All collection districts. All 17 kings and sub-kings. They are expected to submit their letters by Monday. If not, I will still carry out the reassignments," said Biazon, who offered to step down from the agency's helm after the SONA on Monday, which was rejected by the President.

Biazon, meanwhile, urged the so-called "powerful forces" outside the BOC not to meddle in the ongoing shakeup.

"Sa pag-uusap sa intervention siguro naman they will take it upon themselves not to intervene. Sana 'wag," he said.

Biazon explained that the government and the public are expecting radical reforms from the bureau, on which the past days' media attention has been focused.

"Bagaman nagkaroon na tayo ng mga reshuffle noong nakaraan na mga buwan, itong panahon na ito na masasabi nating nailagay sa forefront ng atensyon ng publiko ang Bureau of Customs, kinakailangan naming magpakita ng aming determination na talagang tumupad doon sa reform agenda ng ating pamahalaan," Biazon said.

The current district collectors are :
San Fernando's Fidel Villanueva IV,
Rogel Gatchalian in Manila,
Ricardo Belmonte in Manila International Container Port,
Carlos So in Ninoy Aquino International Airport,
Rene Benavidez in Batangas,
Divina Garrido in Legaspi,
Julius Premediles in Iloilo,
Ronnie Silvestre in Cebu,
Leovigildo Dayoja in Tacloban,
Oswaldo Geli in Surigao,
Anju Nereo Castigador in Cagayan de Oro,
Hadji Abubakar Hamad in Zamboanga,
Matriano Bangcoy in Davao,
Errol Albano in Subic,
Edward dela Cuesta in Clark International Airport,
Enrico Turringan in Aparri and
Frederico Bulanhagui in Limay.

Malacañang has said that it is expecting major reforms to rid the BOC of corruption.

President Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda had assured that no one will be spared from the reforms that will be implemented by the administration in the coming weeks.

12 collectors vacate posts in customs revamp By Tina G. Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer 5:31 pm | Saturday, July 27th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines — Several Bureau of Customs district collectors have complied with the directive of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon to vacate their posts in preparation for a reassignment in the first round of a wide-ranging reform in the agency.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, at least 12 collectors from various ports and subports in the country submitted their letters of relinquishment to Biazon.

The BOC has 17 major port collectors and 37 subport collectors nationwide.

Biazon on Friday issued a memorandum directing the customs officials to vacate their current assignments or designation in writing on or before Monday.

One of those who complied was Port of Manila collector Rogel Gatchalian, one of the so-called “Three Kings” at the bureau said to be politically well-connected, who heads the three Metro Manila revenue districts and who reportedly does not want to be removed or reassigned elsewhere.

“This is to give the commissioner a free hand to decide… and to show that I’m not clinging to my post,” Gatchalian said in a text message to reporters.

Gatchalian also denied that he had the backing of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

Gatchalian, who had been in his post for three years, said he wanted “to disprove the allegation that Senator Enrile is meddling with the affairs in the bureau in my favor.”

The two other so-called “kings” of the bureau are Ricardo Belmonte, younger brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and customs collector at the Manila International Container Port, and Carlos So, collector at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Gatchalian, Belmonte and So were not included in the first major revamp of district collectors undertaken by Biazon early this year despite the failure of their districts to meet revenue targets last year and in the first five months of 2013.

Belmonte is said to be backed by his brother, and So by the influential Iglesia ni Cristo.

Belmonte has yet to file his letter of relinquishment but said in an interview on Friday he was willing to do so.

“We are always ready for a revamp. At anytime that the commissioner says you go here, we follow,” he said, adding that the upcoming reshuffle of bureau officials was an “ordinary thing.”

Biazon downplayed the perceived power and influence of the “Three Kings.”

“There are 17 kings (in Customs), not three. That is figurative speech. There are 17 collection districts, 17 kings and subkings. They are expected to submit their letters by Monday. If not, I will still carry out the reassignments,” Biazon said.

“I don’t acknowledge or recognize kings; they’re collectors under the authority of the commissioner. If there were those who were not included in the previous reshuffle, it was because it was my discretion and not because somebody imposed it on me. I am the commissioner of Customs, I have the authority, I have the discretion and I exercise that discretion,” he said.

Other district collectors who relinquished their posts were Edward James Dy Buco, Port of Davao; Ronnie Silvestre, Port of Clark; Adelina Molina, Port of Subic; Edward Dela Cuesta, Port of Cebu; Oswaldo Geli, Port of Surigao ; and Darwisha Shuck, Port of Zamboanga.

“We have to follow the order. It is a lawful and a valid order,” Dela Cuestsa said.

Subport collectors Noah Dimaporo (Harbour Center), Jemima Sy-Flores (North Harbor), Josefa Villasenor (Nasipit Port in Agusan del Norte), Pendatun Alim (Dadiangas Port in General Santos City), and Pedro Quiñones (Parang Port in Maguindanao) have also submitted their letters of relinquishment to Biazon.

Cagayan de Oro Port district collector Lourdes Mangaoang have yet to submit her letter but signified her intention to vacate her post.

Biazon’s directive came following a stinging public rebuke from President Benigno Aquino III in his State of the Nation Address on July 22.

Biazon said the revamp of district collectors was just the first round of the process of reassignments to be implemented in the agency.

He said he would submit his recommendations on which collectors would be retained and which ones would be replaced “subject to the approval of the Department of Finance”.

“The replacements are subject to the approval of the DOF. Under the law, I may designate the person to be assigned to a particular post but it has to be approved by the secretary of finance,” he said.

Biazon also called on unidentified “powerful forces” outside the bureau not to interfere in the revamp.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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