, February 8, 2005
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva   -  President Arroyo called on all officials and personnel of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) yesterday to help her remove the country’s stigma of corruption as she renewed her warning to smugglers, saying it won’t be long before they end up in jail.

"The days of smugglers are numbered. We will beat them at their own game and draw the noose on their operations," the President said during yesterday’s celebration of the agency’s 103rd anniversary at the Port of Manila.

Through honest and efficient tax collection, Mrs. Arroyo said the BOC can repair its tarnished image. On the part of the executive branch, she vowed to help by introducing "technological reforms and procedural changes" to plug the principal causes of revenue leakage.

The BOC is the second biggest tax-collecting agency of the government after the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). Both have been riddled with corruption and bribery scandals.

"The perception of corruption has to be reversed lest our economic gains be overcome by nagging skepticism," Mrs. Arroyo told Customs personnel.

Toward this end, the President said she signed into law last month the Accountability Reform Act or the Lateral Attrition Law that mandates a system of rewards and punishment for the revenue collection performance of both the BIR and Customs.

"I know some of you are apprehensive about this law. But those who did their job faithfully will not worry," the President said.

She assured Customs personnel that the law would not be used by the government "as a means for political vendetta, some rewards nor for some unjust punishment."

"It will be used to build faith in good governance," she said.

The ranks in the BOC, the President added, must also be freed from "fear, blackmail and undue interference from unscrupulous vested interests."

The lateral attrition law is one of the country’s two new tax laws, out of a total of eight bills endorsed by the President to Congress last year to help raise an additional P80 billion in revenues.

"Popular acceptance of new taxes largely depends on our efficiency in collecting taxes under existing laws. Honest tax collection is your main task. This responsibility puts the Customs workers at the forefront of public interest," the President pointed out.

Battling the corruption tag it has had for years, the BOC actually posted historic highs in its collection performance for 2004. But the President said more has to be done.

"The road to change calls for the acceptance of the sad reality that the Customs service continues to be the most stigmatized agency in the country," Mrs. Arroyo said.

With the passage of new revenue measures, Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra said there is no more excuse for the BOC and BIR not to achieve higher collection efficiency.

Mitra noted both agencies should now be able to perform better in curbing smuggling and tax evasion.

In the event held at the BOC head office in Port Area, Manila, millions worth of smuggled items were presented to the President by Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes, as head of the Cabinet Oversight of the National Anti-Smuggling Task Force and Customs Commissioner George Jereos.

The latest seizure consisted of P15 million worth of high-end cellular phones, P5 million worth of pirated DVD movies and four luxury vehicles.

The President then instructed Jereos to "make sure the consignees of all those seized goods will receive a charge sheet" that same day.

She congratulated the BOC on achieving record-high collections last year reaching as high as P122.45 billion. Their target was P112.58 billion.

This figure, Mrs. Arroyo said, is "proof not only of growing efficiency but better moral discipline" at the BOC.

At the same event, the President handed out awards to top tax collection performers led by the Port of Batangas, 2nd Port of Manila, 3rd Manila International Container Port, and 4th Port of Cebu.

The outstanding Customs collector award went out to Napoleon Morales for exceeding the collection target.

The President also used the occasion to pay tribute to her outgoing finance secretary, Juanita Amatong, and Jereos, who both assisted in the awarding rites.

"Nitz Amatong and Customs Commissioner George Jereos are about to retire and leave us. I would like to congratulate them both for a job well done," she said.

"It’s also my pleasure to welcome Secretary Cesar Purisima to the DOF (Department of Finance) and Bert Lina to the Customs watch," the President said.

She also thanked the private sector for its support in implementing technological reforms and procedural changes at the BOC such as those provided by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The President particularly lauded the launching of a new network by the BOC that links up with the world automation project of the United Nations to provide a common standard of import and export processing.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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