(MANILA TIMES) by JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, JOHANNA M. SAMPAN AND CATHERINE VALENTE REPORTERS - AS Malacañang pushed to unmask the “powerful forces” or padrinos who interfered in the operations of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) or are protecting its officials, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile (photo) stepped out and admitted that he interceded in behalf of Port of Manila District Collector Roger Gatchalian, one of the so-called “three kings” of the bureau.

Enrile said that he worked for the promotion of Gatchalian but the senator maintained that he never called the Customs collector to seek any favor.

The senator said someone approached him to ask if he could help Gatchalian, whom he did not know at that time, get promoted.

“So I recommended him to be promoted to Collector VI. I did not recommend him for Manila. It was Malacañang that issued an appointment giving him the rank of Custom’s Collector VI,” Enrile explained.

The incident happened during the time of president Gloria Arroyo.

Enrile said the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) could have made a mistake in appointing Gatchalian as district collector of the Port of Manila because he only wanted to be promoted as collector VI.

When Gatchalian was promoted in 2009, Enrile said he told the Customs official not to embarrass him and to work hard to increase the collection of the port of Manila.

Gatchalian’s rise was met with protests by some middle level officials who outranked the former. However, Gatchalian managed to stay in his post.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered his reassignment but it was not carried out allegedly because of the supposed “powerful forces” protecting him.

“I never called anybody in the Bureau of Customs. You can ask each one of all those people,” Enrile said.

Gatchalian resigned last week after Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon ordered all district and sub-port collectors to submit their courtesy resignations to give him a free hand to introduce reforms in the agency.

Senator Ralph Recto also admitted calling a Customs official but only to verify a complaint that his friend was being harassed by some bureau officials. He said the businessman wanted to pay the correct taxes for his shipment instead of giving “grease money.”

Malacañang on Tuesday called on individuals who can identify the supposed “powerful forces” at the BOC to come out and unmask them so that they can be held accountable for their acts.

Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani also challenged former Customs deputy commissioners Danilo Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada to name the powerful officials who meddled in the affairs of the BOC.

Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte urged Customs officials in the know to name names so that these padrinos can be investigated. A source earlier identified Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa as one of these “padrinos” but this was denied by Palace officials who maintained that Ochoa had nothing to do with any illegal transactions in the bureau.

Lim, who quit his post last week, admitted that “powerful forces” are interfering in the operation of BoC.

Biazon likewise confirmed that these influential individuals include senators, congressmen and relatives of some high officials.

Valte said these padrinos or godfathers should be unmasked. The government, she added, welcomes any evidence that would support the allegations.

“Sa amin po, wala po kaming problema kung mapapangalanan po ito. In fact, ‘nung nakausap ko nga po si ES Ochoa, ‘yon nga ho ‘yung sinasabi niya, na he would be more than happy to receive ‘yung mga ganitong information,” she added
Bacani meanwhile called on Lim and Tañada to name the powerful people who meddled in the bureau.

“Ang importante diyan ay ituro yung sinasabing mga shadowy figures na yan. Yun ang napakahalaga. Expose those figures to the light,” Bacani said. “At least makapag-name man lang sila ng ilan . . . Masisindak na ang mga yun.”

Tañada, who was the Deputy Commissioner for Internal Administration before he resigned last week, claimed that senators, congressmen, and relatives of government officials have called up his office to lobby for someone’s employment or promotion at the bureau.

Senate probe

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero filed a resolution asking the appropriate Senate committee to investigate the controversy and have the meddling politicians identified.

Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, wants the Blue Ribbon panel to head the investigation into the “padrino system.”

“This political patronage in the bureau’s system is a loud whisper that cannot and should not be ignored anymore. It has acculturated the entire agency, even its own officials already admitted to its existence. We in Congress should police our own ranks. Who else will look into this if we ourselves turn our eyes away from it?” the senator asked.

The lawmaker said that the Constitution clearly prohibits any form of intervention from members of Congress in any matter before any office of government for his pecuniary benefit.

He said Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act defines persuading, inducing or influencing any another public officer as one of the corrupt practices punishable under the law.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that apart from the investigation, there is also a need for the BOC to undergo genuine reforms since a mere revamp in the agency is not enough.

He said that in order to have real change, the bureau needs to weed out corrupt officials and personnel.

Meanwhile, Carlos So, one of the two district collectors who defied Biazon’s resign order, met his staff on Tuesday and urged them to carry on and improve their collection.

Port of Iloilo collector Julius Premediles also did not quit his post, it was learned yesterday.

“Let’s move on. Lahat naman tayo mare-reshuffle. The commissioner has the authority to do that,” So was quoted as saying during the meeting.

A source said So did not submit a letter of resignation because “it is an option of a district collector.” “But it doesn’t mean that we are not supporting Commissioner Biazon,” the source added.

All district collectors are to meet with Biazon on Friday to discuss changes in the bureau. WITH A REPORT FROM BENJIE L. VERGARA


Who’s in, out at customs known in 2 weeks By Philip C. Tubeza Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:09 am | Saturday, August 3rd,

SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT In a closed-door meeting Friday, Customs Chief Ruffy Biazon urged 47 customs collectors from all over the country, whom he called “little commissioners,” to reform their turf to lift the bureau from its crisis mode. (Inset, from left) The so-called Three Kings: Carlos So, reportedly backed by the Iglesia ni Cristo, Rogel Gatchalian, reportedly backed by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ricardo Belmonte reportedly backed by his brother, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

MANILA - Don’t expect all their heads to roll.

Nearly two weeks after President Aquino railed against corruption in the Bureau of Customs, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Friday said he would announce within two weeks who among the district and subport customs collectors would be reshuffled.

Biazon also urged the collectors—whom he described as “little commissioners”—to reform thoroughly their old jurisdictions or new assignments during a closed-door meeting with 47 of them in Manila Friday morning.

He said he also ordered the heads of the bureau’s intelligence and enforcement divisions to submit reorganization plans so that these could also be revamped.

“We have a timetable of two weeks [for the collectors’ reshuffle] to also get the go-signal of higher-ups for the new assignments,” Biazon said in a press conference after the meeting.

“The bureau is in a crisis… It has been suffering from negative perception and therefore, each and every one of us must provide the desire and the determination to earn the trust of the Filipino people,” he said.

Biazon said he would decide who among the collectors should be removed and his decision would be based on their performance as revenue collectors (40 percent), enforcement against smuggling (30 percent) and feedback from “stakeholders,” presumably the public (30 percent).

Collectors’ support

He noted that the district and subport collectors had already given him either written or verbal assurances that they were willing to relinquish their posts.

“By submitting your letters of relinquishment, you are showing that you are one with our reform program, you are committed,” Biazon said he told the collectors.

“And, of course, with your commitment comes my expectations. And if my expectations are failed, then sorry. We have to set you aside,” he said.

“Because as we strive for reform, it is either everyone is on board or you get left behind,” he added.

But being left behind apparently does not necessarily mean being kicked out of the agency, as Biazon also said no collector would be fired or demoted.

When asked about criticisms that he was just shuffling people around, Biazon said: “Probably, the one who made that comment does not know the process of removing somebody from office.”

He pointed out that kicking out people from the civil service requires bringing lawsuits to accord them due process.

Due process

“You cannot just fire somebody from the civil service. But definitely, we are looking for such cases and in my term, there have been many who have been dismissed from the service, even up to the rank of collector,” Biazon said.

He said he also exhorted the collectors to defy padrinos, or power brokers who support corrupt customs employees.

“We have talked about padrinos. They know my stand on this issue… that as long as we are doing our jobs here, following the law, rules and guidelines, we should feel confident [in standing] up to padrinos,” Biazon said.

“We should not be pressured by external forces,” he added.

Cagayan de Oro district collector Lourdes Mangaoang said there was “no animosity” during the hourlong meeting, with some collectors even trying “to make jokes.”

‘Three Kings’

The so-called Three Kings, or the three major customs officials reportedly with powerful political backers, also attended the meeting.

Port of Manila district collector Rogel Gatchalian, reportedly backed by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile; Ninoy Aquino International Airport district collector Carlos So, reportedly supported by Iglesia ni Cristo; and Manila International Container Port collector Ricardo Belmonte, brother of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, expressed support for Biazon’s efforts to introduce reforms in the bureau.

“We support Commissioner Biazon and the President, including (Finance) Secretary (Cesar) Purisima,” Gatchalian said before begging off from making further comments.

So said he did not defy Biazon, referring to reports that he did not submit a letter of relinquishment.

“I sent a text message to [Biazon] and I explained to him that [he has] all my support, contrary to media reports. I recognize his leadership and I go along with him, with his plans to cleanse the leadership of misfits and scalawags,” So said.

He said Biazon could reorganize the bureau anytime as long as he had the go-signal of the secretary of finance.

“I will abide with the decision of the commissioner and his exercise of sound judgment and discretion,” So said.

Under 13 commissioners

When asked if a religious group was backing him, So said: “I don’t have a padrino. I am backed by my qualifications and experience. I’ve been here for 30 years.”

Belmonte said he never had any problem with power brokers in his 34 years in the bureau. He earlier said he would retire in February.

“Yesterday (Aug. 1) marked my 34th year in the service. I have been under 13 commissioners and I never had any problem with padrinos,” Belmonte said.

“I have been ready [to be reassigned] for the past 34 years. You look at my record and you try to see if I questioned any reassignment,” he added

President is urged to take over BOC By Cathy C. Yamsuan, Jerry E. Esplanada, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:56 am | Thursday, August 1st, 2013

MANILA - A neophyte senator urged President Aquino to temporarily take over the reins of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) until its stables are cleansed if he does not have the heart to fire its head, Ruffy Biazon.

Opposition Sen. Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito (photo) noted that the President might have qualms about booting out Biazon because he is a member of the administration’s Liberal Party (LP).

Malacañang on Wednesday refused to comment on Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ call to the President to crack down on “power-wielders” in the BOC but maintained reforms were forthcoming.

Extensive reforms

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda declined to confirm Trillanes’ claim that the President knew the padrinos but said the executive department had a complete picture of the situation in the BOC.

“Part of the process of instituting reforms is to know the battlefield. It is safe to say that we know the battlefield and we know the lay of the land; and so, what the reforms are will be in response to the lay of the land,” he told reporters in a briefing.

Malacañang has vowed to institute extensive reforms in the agency.

“Maybe it’s difficult to let go of someone sporting the (party) color,” Ejercito said, apparently referring to the LP’s symbolic yellow when asked about Mr. Aquino’s seeming hesitance to let go of Biazon who has yet to eradicate smuggling syndicates since his appointment to the bureau in 2011.

Biazon ran for senator under the LP in 2010 but lost. He was appointed customs commissioner after the one-year ban on losing candidates accepting government positions.

Biazon’s father, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, is also an LP member and was among the first to pledge allegiance to then Sen. Benigno Aquino III when the party was deciding on a standard-bearer.

“We want the President to succeed but it seems he is having difficulty letting go when the person concerned is a political ally,” Ejercito said in a news conference yesterday.

“But if you are the President, your loyalty to the party should only be second to loyalty to the country,” the senator said.

Hands-on approach

Ejercito said it would be better if the President himself took a hands-on approach in cleaning up the BOC since he obviously knew those who needed to be removed.

In his State of the Nation Address (Sona) last week, President Aquino deplored the BOC for inefficiency and corruption but did not accept the resignation that Biazon volunteered minutes after his speech.

“If the President takes the lead in cleaning the agency, who could say no to that?” Ejercito said.


Biazon and Deputy Customs Commissioner Danilo Lim had been quoted as saying that the backers of corrupt officials in the agency include senators, congressmen and relatives of some top officials.

Reports have identified the so-called “Three Kings” in the agency as Ricardo Belmonte, brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.; district collector Carlos So of Ninoy Aquino International Airport and district collector Rogel Gatchalian of the Port of Manila.

Biazon had asked port collectors to relinquish their posts to make way for a revamp.

Ejercito said that if the President would not replace Biazon, the commissioner should at least be given a six-month deadline to “make headway” and improve the situation in the bureau.

By this, Ejercito said the BOC should reflect better collection efforts and curb the padrino (patrons) system.
Full context
Trillanes told reporters he called Lacierda “to explain to him the full context” of the Inquirer story on Wednesday in which Mr. Aquino was “dared” to name the padrinos in the BOC.

“I clarified that I wasn’t demanding anything from the President. I never challenged him,” Trillanes said.

The senator pointed out that the demand to name padrinos came from another source—retired Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani—who addressed the challenge to customs officials.

True enough, the Inquirer report only quoted Trillanes saying as he awaits what Mr. Aquino would do about the padrinos “based on what he knows.”

Trillanes said the President raised the issue of the BOC’s lackadaisical performance and its inept employees in the Sona.
“For the President to mention it in the Sona means he knows something. He knows the big picture. I’m just waiting for what he will do based on what he knows,” Trillanes said in an ambush interview.

“The public is waiting also,” he added.

On Tuesday night, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte responded to Trillanes’ statement by saying: “Let’s just wait for the reforms set to be implemented, and then we can assess from there.”

Lacierda said he spoke with Trillanes but claimed they didn’t dwell on the latter’s public challenge to the President to crack down on the power wielders. He said the senator expressed support for Mr. Aquino’s reforms.

Lacierda also declined to say if the President had solid evidence against customs personnel when he lambasted them for their incompetence in his Sona.

“You will know our reforms … You know, we don’t want to telegraph what our measures will be. If I answer you one way, there will be a lot of implications or consequences. So the safest answer is to say: you will know,” he said.

“This is my last song syndrome with respect to the customs: let’s wait for the reforms,” he added.

Include oil smuggling

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said he wanted the planned Senate probe of the BOC padrino system to include oil smuggling.

It was the Senate finance committee chair, Francis Escudero, who filed a resolution on Tuesday directing three powerful Senate committees—blue ribbon, ways and means and his own panel—to lead the probe.

Recto said Petron Corp. went on record saying that the government was losing yearly between P30 billion and P40 billion in revenue due to the smuggling of refined petroleum products, mainly gasoline and diesel.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano suggested that whistle-blowers, who identify protectors of smuggling syndicates, be given cash incentives just like those who pinpoint criminal suspects to aid law enforcers.

Full cooperation

Biazon said the BOC would fully cooperate with the Senate in its planned inquiry into the padrino system in the agency.
“We will cooperate with inquiries called for by the legislative branch,” he said.

In a blog on the padrino system in the agency, Biazon said sometime in March he was “surprised at the number of employees and officials in the bureau who are said to have their own political backers.”

“And we’re not just talking about top level or even middle management. We’re talking about even down to the clerk level,” he wrote.

He recalled: “One time, there was one person I put in the Customs Navy (floating status). It wasn’t long before I received letters from three congressmen inquiring as to why the person was removed from the post.”

“I’m told that one previous commissioner even had a political map of personnel in the bureau, identifying the connections that these personnel had with those in power,” he said.

Biazon noted that as early as April, he had pushed for the passage of a Congress measure that would seek to insulate the BOC from political patronage, as well as ban the endorsement or recommendation by politicians and other influential persons in the hiring or promotion of customs personnel.

The same bill “should also include the establishment of specific qualifications for anyone to be hired in the bureau. For instance, only those who have taken up customs administration or licensed customs brokers should be hired,” he added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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