Bureau of Customs (BOC) intelligence chief Danilo Lim

MANILA, July 29, 2013 (PHILSTAR) The meddling by “influential forces” in Customs operations is so extensive, with the individuals involved “ranging from A to Z,” Bureau of Customs (BOC) intelligence chief Danilo Lim said yesterday.

“They are from everywhere. Our government is very broad, our society is very broad,” he said. “It is difficult. You would have to do a balancing act. (The forces) might come from anywhere, even from the media.”

Lim, meanwhile, denied being the source of a report naming some politicians as alleged patrons of ranking BOC officials.

“It did not come from me,” Lim said.

When asked if he would confirm the report, Lim said he would have to talk first with Customs Deputy Commissioner for internal affairs Jose Lorenzo Tañada.

One of those mentioned in a news report as having secured his position with the help of a politician was Manila International Container Port (MICP) District Collector Ricardo Belmonte, younger brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. This was denied by both men.

Lim offered to resign shortly after President Aquino mentioned in his State of the Nation Address on Monday that the BOC was one of the most corrupt agencies in government.

Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon had also offered to resign but this was rejected by Malacañang.

Tañada had also talked about meddling in BOC affairs by some politicians and their relatives.

“We cannot just set them aside because these are not ordinary people,” he said.

On requests for favors from some politicians, Tañada said his instruction to subordinates was for them to “just do the job right.”

“For example in hiring people, focus on their qualifications. If there is an endorsement treat it as a character reference and evaluate the person’s qualification, their capability and complete the submission,” he said.

Lim said he wanted to “compare notes” with Tañada even as he promised to name names in a proper forum.

Biazon also dared those accusing BOC officials of having protectors from political and religious groups to come out in the open.

He also said those “unnamed sources” feeding information to the media may have their own agenda and vested interest to protect.

“We must be careful in this situation. This is the battle that we are facing at the frontline. I am saying this as a Bureau of Customs commissioner. I am the one experiencing this,” he said. “There are many armchair generals around there but fighting in the trenches is what we are doing here.”

Brother defended

The Speaker, meanwhile, joined his colleagues in calling for Lim to name the government officials, including members of Congress, allegedly involved in illegal transactions at the BOC.

Belmonte also said his younger brother Ricardo has been with the bureau for 34 years “with an impeccable record.”

“He certainly doesn’t need me to back him. And I have never done so,” he said. Ricardo, for his part, said his brother had never meddled in his work or had helped him get appointed to his current position as BOC collector.

“If I have strong connections then why would it take me 34 years to be collector?” Ricardo said his brother was not yet in politics when he began working for the bureau in 1979 as an assessor.

Ricardo had also served as district collector at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila and in Cebu.

He is due to retire in February next year when he turns 65.

“It is no longer my fault if the people elected him to become a politician. As far as I am concerned, I have been in the bureau for 34 years and I was not appointed to the bureau because of Speaker Belmonte,” he said.

He also denied rumors that he would replace Biazon. “No. I am retiring in February,” he said.

He also denied being a shooting buddy of President Aquino, saying he has not even met the president personally.

“I have not gone to any shooting with him. I have not seen him in a firing range. I have not talked to him personally. I do not know him personally,” he said.

On reports that he was one of the “three kings” in the bureau, Belmonte said there are actually 17 “kings” at the BOC, representing the 17 BOC districts across the country.

“All the collectors are heads of their ports. Every port in the whole country has a collector and if you are saying ‘king,’ he is the king in his own port. So it is wrong to say the BOC has three kings, if we have 17 districts,” he said.

Reports said the “three kings,” aside from Belmonte, were Port of Manila district collector Rogel Gatchalian and NAIA district collector Carlos So.

Biazon himself vouched for Belmonte, saying the latter earned his position through experience and good track record and not through a padrino.

“In fairness to Collector Belmonte he has done his time at the BOC long before any of us are here so if he is occupying a major port now it is because it is his experience, it is because of his capability and not because he is the brother of the Speaker of the House,” Biazon said.

He also said the Speaker has never contacted the agency for favors or some special instructions.

“In fairness to the Speaker, in my 20 months here, not once did he call or sent any communication to me to affect operations or affect my decisions,” he said. “So if there are those who are saying that Speaker Belmonte is using his influence I think they should come out in the open,” he added.

For his part, deputy commissioner for enforcement group Horacio Suansing Jr., one of those named in the report, said he earned his current position due to hard work and long years of experience in the bureau. He said he started his career as a Customs policeman. He said he is also a Career Executive Service Board eligible.

“I am a career official of the BOC. I have been here for the last 26 years now. We serve at the pleasure of the President. I support the administration of President Aquino and Commissioner Biazon,” he said. He said he did not intend to file a courtesy resignation because “we serve at the pleasure of the President.”

“It was the President who re-appointed us to the BOC,” he said.

On allegations that he enjoys the backing of his first cousin Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Suansing said “you cannot choose your relatives.”

“I am just lucky that she is my cousin.”

He added that his track record speaks for itself. When he was the district collector at the POM for four years, the port was able to surpass all its collection targets, he said. – Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero

BOC seizes semi-sub, vehicles By Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 27, 2013 - 12:00am \

Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon examines a Ducati motorcycle seized along with other misdeclared and illegal items at the Manila International Container Port in Manila’s South Harbor yesterday. EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines - A P5-million semi-submarine and P19 million worth of various goods have been seized at the Manila International Container Port (MICP).

Deputy Commissioner Horacio Suansing Jr. yesterday said the knocked-down semi-submarine was misdeclared as an outboard motor compressor parts and accessories.

It reportedly came from South Korea.

Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon said 14 container vans filled with P2.4 million worth of scrap plastic were seized after arriving from Vietnam and Hong Kong last April.

It was consigned to Urrutia Trading Group of Companies, he added.

Biazon said the cargo was seized for violating the Tariffs and Customs Code of the Philippines (TCCP) and a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order in relation to Republic Act 6969, the Toxic Substances and Hazardous Nuclear Wastes Act of 1990. Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

“Securing our borders from the entry of illegally imported hazardous materials to ensure the safety of the Filipinos from contaminated and hazardous materials is a concern that is of utmost importance for the Bureau of Customs,” he said. “We will never allow a single shipment of these kinds of cargoes to get through customs gates.”

Custom authorities also seized four units of 40-foot container vans of used vehicles allegedly illegally imported from South Korea.

The shipment, valued at P4.2 million, was in violation of the TCCP, RA 8506 and Executive Order 156 banning the importation of right-hand drive cars and of used vehicles.

Other seizures were two units of container vans of used tires worth P1.06 million and one used Ducati motorcycle worth P386,000.

One container van of table and kitchenware worth P2.5 million and another containing body lotion worth P3.5 million were also seized.

Meanwhile, in Zamboanga City, police seized 230 sacks of smuggled rice on Thursday.

Zamboanga City police station 6 commander Senior Inspector Elmer Acuña said the operation was made following an intelligence tip-off that sacks of imported rice would be unloaded in a mini-wharf in the coastal village of Arena Blanco.

Police team under Inspector Daniel Lozada swooped down at the wharf and stopped a truck loaded with 230 sacks of rice about 3 a.m. Thursday, he added.

Acuña said the smuggled sacks of rice were unloaded from M/V Rawda, which had come from Jolo, Sulu.

The seized smuggled rice was estimated to have a market value of more than P200,000.

Acuña said the rice was immediately turned over to the Bureau of Customs for proper disposition.

The truck was impounded at the community police action center, he added.

Zamboanga City Mayor Isabel Climaco-Salazar has urged the Customs district office in the city to intensify the campaign against the smuggling of rice.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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