Senate President pro-tempore Ralph Recto.


MANILA, AUGUST 4, 2013 (MANILA TIMES) by JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND SHEILA MANALAC REPORTERS - OIL smuggling syndicates appear to flourish under the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, and government is losing billions of pesos in unpaid taxes, according to Senate President pro-tempore Ralph Recto.

Recto, in a statement released on Wednesday, said reforms at the Bureau of Customs should focus on oil smuggling, where the government loses P30 billion to P40 billion in potential revenues annually.

Losses from smuggled diesel and gasoline, he said, could be more than the annual subsidy the national government gives to the 120 state colleges and universities in the country.

Recto said that between 2010 and 2011, there is a huge gap in the taxes paid by 21 taxpayers in the petroleum sector, mostly oil companies. By his own estimates, Recto noted a steep drop of 37 percent, equivalent to P219 billion, in the total tax payments by the oil sector.

Worse, he said, the number of vehicles using the country’s streets during the two-year period increased by 12 percent from 1,128,369 new cars and motorcycles in 2010 to 1,277,895 in 2011.

Interestingly, according to Recto’s figures, the total tax take from the 21 oil taxpayers was pegged at P593 billion in 2010 when there were fewer new vehicles on the road. In 2011, the tax payments fell to only P374 billion when there were actually more new vehicles added into the mainstream.

“There is no singular magic pill that will cure the many ills plaguing the Bureau of Customs,” Recto said. “What it needs is a cocktail of solutions ranging from overhauling the organization, to overhauling rules on assessment and procedures, and even overhauling laws.”

Based on industry estimates, smuggled oil products accounted for about 30 percent of the total volume of the so-called white products like diesel and gasoline that are sold in the local market.

Most oil smuggling incidents were reported in the country’s economic zones and large ports, the entry points for imported petroleum products.

In February this year, The Manila Times reported that Transportation Undersecretary and former Armed Forces chief Eduardo Oban has links with suspected oil smuggling syndicates. The report was denied by Malacañang and the Department of Transportation and Communication.

Recto’s name had been dragged into the latest mess at Customs involving the existence of padrinos and “powerful forces” in the bureau.

Rector admitted calling an official of the bureau but insisted he only wanted to inquire about a complaint from a businessman that he was harassed by Customs personnel.

He said the businessman wanted to pay the proper taxes for his shipment instead of giving “grease money.”

It was resigned Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Danilo Lim who earlier said there are “powerful forces” who intervene in the affairs of the bureau, making their jobs more difficult.

Lim admitted granting favors to high officials who have been calling him to avoid getting their ire.

Last week, the Times identified Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. as among the padrinos of some officials of the agency, quoting an unimpeachable source inside the bureau.


On Wednesday, Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon admitted that “deep-rooted” problems within the bureau’s system continue to affect its employees and officials to efficiently perform and hit collection targets.

In an interview, Biazon revealed that “it is not enough to reshuffle officials within the bureau.”

“We are not addressing the root of the problem in the bureau, we want to implement reforms that is long lasting that lives past the Aquino administration, but the problem within the system persists,” Biazon said.

On July 26, Biazon ordered all district and subport collectors to resign as part of the “major revamp” within the bureau in an effort to “put the right people at the right place” and determine those who support the commissioner’s efforts for a wide-range reform.

With the deadline over, Biazon revealed that he will meet all the collectors on Friday to “set the record straight and to determine which positions fit each and every one of the collectors.”

He also said that Friday’s meeting will be his basis for recommending which positions will go to what collector.
He will submit his recommendation to the Department of Finance for approval.

Fundamental reforms

Biazon has been calling to modernize Customs transactions, which he feels is a “fundamental reform measure” to beat the padrino system.

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero suggested installing security cameras in different Customs offices to monitor payoffs and malpractices.

“That’s good, but give us the money,” Biazon said.

He said corrupt officials can always hide from prying eyes by going out of the bureau premises.

Another lawmaker also suggested increasing the pay of Customs officials, something that delighted the commissioner.
“I’m glad that someone suggested that. Reform is not just punishment, reform is also about rewards,” he said.

Catching big smugglers “is the role that the bureau’s intelligence play. We are detecting these people and we are intensifying our efforts to catch them,” Biazon said.

“Many names crop up, but gathering evidence to include them in the charge sheet is one thing that is still an ongoing matter,” he said.

Biggest problem

The biggest problem for Biazon is that the Tariff and Customs Code is outdated and should be amended.

“The procedures and guidelines within the code are being used by these smugglers, importers and brokers to get away from what they are doing. They have already found a way to work within the system and they are using the same system to bribe some officials,” he said.

Escudero filed a measure that seeks to curb widespread influence peddling at Customs and possibly other government agencies.

Escudero, in filing Senate Bill 118 (SB118) or the “Anti-Influence Peddling Act”, said that its about time for the country to enact a law that will make influence peddling unlawful to discourage those people in “power” from intervening in any government transactions.

Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, noted that although there is a law against graft and corruption, it only penalizes persons who received a present, materials or any pecuniary advantage as well as those who, without official authority actually intervene, directly or indirectly in any transactions with the government.


Customs employees hit back at Aquino By Jerry E. Esplanada Philippine Daily Inquirer 8:10 pm | Thursday, August 1st, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The 3,000-member Bureau of Customs Employees Association (Bocea) hit back at President Benigno Aquino III Thursday for making “sweeping generalizations” in his recent State of the Nation Address, which depicted Customs personnel as corrupt and inefficient.

In a statement, Bocea president Romulo Pagulayan described the President’s pronouncements as “very disgraceful and humiliating.”

Aquino’s accusations “demoralized all officers and employees of the BOC” and were “in complete disregard of their rights to dignity and due process as provided for in the Constitution.”

In a news conference at the BOC headquarters in Manila’s South Harbor, about 20 Bocea members wore black arm bands to express their disappointment over the President’s remarks and to oppose reported plans to privatize the bureau.

The bureau “cannot be totally blamed for not meeting its revenue collection targets,” Pagulayan said because of such other factors as globalization, trade liberalization, a sluggish international trade and a strong peso.

BOC personnel “should not be faulted for the perceived smuggling problem in the bureau,” which the Bocea head claimed was “beyond the control of the BOC’s 17 collection districts.”

“At present, the total personnel complement of the bureau is just 3,000 distributed in 17 districts nationwide compared to 7,000 in 1980…. With this lack of personnel, the bureau cannot cover and effectively carry out its mandate,” he said.

In his SONA, Aquino lambasted the bureau for continuing to allow smuggled items, weapons and even illegal drugs into the country, as well as not properly taxing imported goods.

What’s update on missing vans probe?By Ramon Tulfo Philippine Daily Inquirer
1:13 am | Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Speaker Sonny Belmonte’s name has been unfairly dragged into the issue of a so-called “padrino” system at the Bureau of Customs.

Belmonte, reports say, exerted his influence in having his brother, Ricardo, assigned as collector of the Manila International Container Port (MICP).

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ricardo “Boysie” Belmonte, a career customs official who started at the bottom and got the juicy post because he was an efficient collector.

Ricardo did very well in all his previous assignments, including as collector of the Cebu Port.

The Cebu assignment was his last designation, before he was appointed to the MICP.

In all those assignments he was never recommended by, nor did he seek help from his brother, according to customs insiders.

* * *

But these same customs insiders claim reports that Rogel Gatchalian, collector of the Port of Manila, and Carlos So, collector of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, have strong political connections are true.

Gatchalian, allegedly a mediocre collector, is a protégé of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

So, who’s reportedly one of the most unpopular officials at customs, is a recommendee of his church, the influential Iglesia ni Cristo, my sources say.

Is it the fault of Boysie Belmonte that his brother, Sonny, happens to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

* * *

Almost two years have passed since the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman the results of its probe into the 2,000 container vans that went missing while being transhipped to the Port of Batangas from the Port of Manila.

Among those recommended for investigation for their alleged complicity was Director Fernandino Tuazon of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS).

What happened to the Ombudsman’s investigation?

* * *

Sometimes, newspapers make wrong headlines so that a person who is featured in a story is cast in a bad light.

An example of such a headline appeared in this paper’s front page on Wednesday: Whistle-blower links Alcala to pork barrel scam.

The person referred to is Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

But the pork barrel whistle-blower, Merlina P. Sunas, never linked Alcala to the pork barrel scam, but a certain Ms Agawin, allegedly from the secretary’s office.

Alcala said Agawin never worked in his office, but in the finance department of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
In short, Agawin is not directly under Alcala.

Agawin, according to whistle-blower Sunas, was Janet Lim-Napoles’ contact at the DA for converting the pork barrel of lawmakers into cold cash.

Alcala says he has never met or spoken to Napoles.

* * *

A Filipino housemaid was reportedly raped in the residence of Nigerian Ambassador to the Philippines Akinyemi Fahrounde.
The alleged rapist is said to be a personal assistant of the ambassador.

To add salt to the wound, he allegedly infected the poor woman with a sexually transmitted disease.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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