MANILA , AUGUST 4, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Norman Bordadora, Philip C. Tubeza, Cathy C. Yamsuan - President Aquino knows the padrinos (patrons) of Bureau of Customs (BOC) personnel linked to smuggling and should do something about it, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said Tuesday.

Trillanes said the President knew the personalities behind the corruption in the BOC and that he was just waiting for what the Chief Executive was going to do about it “based on what he knows.”

“You already expressed your frustration. Now, we’re waiting for what you would do to address this frustration,” said Trillanes, a former Navy officer.

Retired Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani said the “shadowy figures” who protected corrupt officials in the BOC should be exposed.

“Expose them to the light,” Bacani said in an interview. “The problem at BOC runs deep and is widespread. What’s important there is that they identify who these shadowy figures are. That is very important.”

He urged customs officials to name names. “Just name three and that would be enough to frighten them off.”
In his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 22, the President lashed out at BOC personnel for not collecting more than P200 billion from smuggled goods.

“Instead of collecting the proper taxes and preventing contraband from entering the country, they are heedlessly permitting the smuggling of goods, and even drugs, arms and other items of a similar nature into our territory,” Aquino said. “Where do these people get the gall?”

The President said BOC personnel who could not do their job “do not deserve to remain in office.”

Trillanes said he would support a Senate resolution seeking an investigation of the “padrinos” of corrupt customs officials but added this was no longer necessary.

“We already know who they are. Senator [Francis] Escudero also already knows who they are,” Trillanes said.

He said he would support the investigation if only to inform the public how deep-seated corruption in the bureau was.

He, nonetheless, said it wouldn’t be an easy inquiry. “Those who think they would be implicated will divert the investigation somewhere else.”

Senate probe

Escudero, Senate finance committee chair, on Tuesday filed a resolution directing three powerful committees to investigate the padrino system in the BOC.

Escudero’s resolution mandates his committee as well as the blue ribbon and ways and means committees to spearhead the investigation of a long rumored patronage system in which well-connected protégés have allegedly engaged in irregular activities.

Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon has complained that efforts to curb shenanigans in the bureau are for naught since those entrenched in the padrino system have chosen to remain uncooperative in cleaning up the agency.

This, however, did not deter him from directing all district and subport collectors to submit letters relinquishing their posts.
Escudero said admissions made by Biazon and his deputy commissioner for intelligence, Danilo Lim, that influential personalities had been interfering in the agency’s conduct of business were already “loud whispers that cannot and should not be ignored anymore.”

The senator said the atmosphere of corruption in the BOC “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?”

Backers of 3 kings

Biazon and Lim were quoted as saying that backers of corrupt officials in the agency include a host of senators, congressmen and relatives of some high officials.

Reports have identified individuals referred to as the “Three Kings” that Biazon and his men are allegedly keen on targeting in the reorganization.

They include Ricardo Belmonte, brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and who is soon to retire from the BOC; district collector Carlos So of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and Port of Manila district collector Rogel Gatchalian.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile is allegedly Gatchalian’s backer, while So has the support of the politically influential Iglesia ni Cristo.

Last week, Escudero challenged BOC officials to name names so that those who are guilty can be made accountable.

Escudero said Section 14, Article 6 of the Constitution categorically banned any form of intervention from members of Congress in any matter before any office of government for his pecuniary benefit.

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

So far, Speaker Belmonte has gone out to announce that “appropriate cases” would be filed against “the congressman” believed to be influencing operations in the bureau.

Escudero said the BOC, as the second-biggest revenue earner in government, “deserves a full and thorough legislative deliberation not only to institute reforms but also to cleanse it.”

‘Most corrupt agency’

He noted that the BOC had long been perceived as the most corrupt government agency.

“Its performance in terms of revenue collection is a major instrument for the government’s target programs. Any deficit is directly proportional to the public’s disadvantage,” he said.

Several senators quickly threw their support behind Escudero’s proposal.

Neophyte Sen. Nancy Binay said she wanted the investigation to eventually come up with recommendations that would “insulate the BOC from padrino interventions.”

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said the Senate probe should identify all specific methods of corruption in the bureau.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said this could mean corrupt practices both “personal” or something done by an individual and “systemic,” which occurs in a larger environment conducive to corruption.

Stop practice

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chair of the Senate committee on ways and means, also expressed support for Escudero’s resolution.

“[This] is really the best time to put a stop to all this political patronage practice that has plagued the agency for many years now. The time is now to erase the perception that the BOC stands for Bureau of Corruption,” Angara said in a text message.

“[As] chair of the ways and means, of course, we would like to closely monitor if the BOC will be able to meet its revenue targets for the prevailing year because quite frankly I’m disturbed by these corruption allegations,” Angara added.

Angara’s committee is in charge of matters relating to revenue generation.


Opposition Sen. Tito Sotto said the Senate probe was “inevitable” because of the present circumstances.

Opposition Sen. Gregorio Honasan reminded colleagues that the padrino system was practiced in virtually all government offices throughout the country.

An amused Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, however, cautioned his fellow lawmakers against the Senate probe.

“That’s been going on forever. Ha-ha,” he said in a text message when asked to comment about the planned padrino investigation.

Probe by independent body

Osmeña said he would rather that the probe “be done by an independent agency” or well-meaning investigators could face a blank wall.

Trillanes said he was stumped by the President’s decision to keep Biazon as the BOC head after Aquino lashed out at the agency for corruption, failure to curb smuggling and repeatedly failing to meet its revenue targets.

“I’m really confused. When [he took up the customs situation in his Sona], it means that the situation was already quite serious,” Trillanes told reporters.

“Now, the head of the agency—the one principally responsible—offered to resign. I’m now confused why [the President] didn’t accept [it],” the senator said.

Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said Aquino should have accepted the resignation of BOC officials who offered to leave their posts.

“When you already know that they have thick faces and yet they remain but you don’t remove them, what does that make you?” Cruz said.

“It does not make sense. It does not make logic. You say you want to take the straight path, but these thick faces remain. Come on,” he added.


Is P-Noy also to blame for Customs? DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 31, 2013 - 12:00am

It is more than command responsibility.

When P-Noy blasted Customs officials during his SONA for failure to reform, he couldn’t go all the way. He had to reject the resignation offer of his Customs Commissioner and two Deputy Commissioners. The explanation of the Palace spokesmen: they were not the officials P-Noy was alluding to.

P-Noy couldn’t, in conscience, have fired Ruffy Biazon and Danny Lim simply because he has not acted on Biazon’s proposals for reform. I know of at least two proposals submitted to P-Noy by Biazon that are gathering dust.

I had a long conversation with Biazon about October last year and he gave me a good perspective of the problems he is confronting everyday at Customs. He thinks the Customs Code ought to be modernized. That will take time, as we can expect vested interests calling on their allies in Congress to look out for them.

Still, the claim of Biazon that the Customs Code is antiquated is probably true. As I reported in a column last year, Biazon told me the law was passed in 1957. But how come P-Noy did not certify the passage of a reformed Customs Code in his SONA?

There are two other major changes Biazon told me last year he wanted to implement to cut down opportunities for corruption. One of those is mandating the universal pre-inspection of all cargo bound for the Philippines in ports of origin. The other is the GPS tagging of all containers so as to avoid the loss of thousands of containers while in transit from port to a bonded warehouse or another port.

The last excuse given to me by Sec Purisima about inaction on the Biazon proposals is the objection of PEZA’s Lilia de Lima. Because everyone knows how straight and narrow is the path walked upon by Ms. De Lima, one wonders why.

I wrote Ms. De Lima and asked her why she is objecting to the GPS tagging of containers. After all, I have also been told that they have caught some smugglers using PEZA addressed containers for their purposes. She said she was worried about additional costs.

“We raised some possible concerns of PEZA zone locators, one of which is the added costs. For a locator who ships 10 containers a day, easily that’s P15,000 daily. There is a need to review the cost aspect. We suggested that BOC make another presentation to them, perhaps in two or three batches starting later this week. This will allow BOC and the GSP service provider to explain this new system to the PEZA zone locators.”

That communication with Ms. De Lima was last February. I assume all have been ironed out by now.

I asked Biazon again the other day via Twitter the status of these two proposals. His reply: “Pending with the DOF sir. Initially we were proposing an Administrative Order to amend the existing one... under study by DOF.

“Later on, in the quest for a quicker mode of implementation, we proposed a Customs Administrative Order, instead of an AO by the President Proposal is pending at DOF, together with the GPS tracking of container vans.

“May I add that these proposals were made just months after I got into office. I’m almost two years now in the post.”

See what I mean?

P-Noy and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima share the blame. A leader does not send out a general to the battlefield and fail to act on the general’s recommendation so he can do effective battle.

It is entirely possible that even if P-Noy and Purisima agreed to the Biazon proposals, Biazon would still fail to deliver. But that’s speculation. Now we know he was not given the proper support.

No wonder even the brave General Danny Lim lost his balls and refuses to substantiate his own allegations of powerful forces interfering at Customs. When they can see that their Commander-in-chief is wavering by failing to give them what they need, they will understandably hesitate to go out there and be slaughtered.

Actually, this public expression of uncharacteristic cowardice of General Lim is bad for Daang Matuwid. It says without words that the powerful forces are closely entrenched with P-Noy himself or those very close to him.

The next move is for P-Noy to prove all skeptics wrong. P-Noy must come out with a big gesture to show it is all out war on corruption at Customs.

Promising PHL

BBC’s Asia Business Report has been taking a look at the Philippines as part of a special series. Here’s the link:

BBC’s Sharanjit Leyl asked Rajat Nag, managing director at the Asian Development Bank, what he thought the future holds for our country. He thought we had a promising future but expressed worry over our failure to develop the manufacturing sector. He said we need manufacturing to provide jobs for a more inclusive growth.

He was generally hopeful and appreciative of Daang Matuwid. But he did suggest that everything depends on what kind of leadership P-Noy shows in the next three years.

A foreign resident who has lived here for years, sent me his own reaction to the interview.

“Mr Nag partly hit the nail on the head referring to the need for a ‘manufacturing’ leg. There is relatively little manufacturing here. They don’t even make a moped. If you buy a pedestal fan it will have been made in China.

“If you meet a rich Filipino and he says he is a ‘businessman’ it will be that he owns a school, or a cemetery, or property. Almost all the rich Filipinos I have met make their money squeezing their fellow countrymen.

“Without overseas workers sending billions back, this place would sink. There are still masses of poor and unemployed and the rich don’t give a damn. A pal texted me from Manila earlier today saying he had moved 100 yards in 40 minutes on the main Manila thoroughfare through the city. That is not unusual.

“The infrastructure is hopeless. The light rail through Manila, during rush hour is impossible to get on except at the first station. Even there it is like a football crowd fighting to get a place.

“I had an electric coil for my motorbike sent from UK on 19th April. It arrived in Manila 22nd April. I got it ten weeks later. I even went to the Manila central post office to try to get it but no Customs staff was on duty that day.

“How could a businessman work like that with, for example, a need for a part for a vital machine? At the post office there was a Filipina crying, trying to get some medication that had been sent from overseas and had been six weeks in the post office.

“A few years ago, a C grade American starlet was making a movie in Manila. Interviewed, she said that Manila was ‘knee deep in garbage and had beggars at every traffic light’ – not far from the truth. The President at the time, Estrada, said he would deport her unless she retracted and apologized, which she had to do to finish the movie.

“Long way to go. That Indian guy obviously had to be very careful about what he said.”

It’s a shame

Rodney Diola, one of the better reporters we had at the Manila Chronicle, had been working abroad since the mid 90s. He posted this comment on Facebook in reaction to a column of Amy Pamintuan I posted.

It’s a shame how the country is being left behind given the extent of corruption among Filipino politicians. I just visited the second tier province of Hunan which has superb infrastructures that beggars Manila. Their airport is ten times better than Manila and 100 times better than Cebu.

The province also provides cheap train service. All those stolen money used by Filipino politicians could have been used to provide great infra for the country.

Jail those pork barrel scammers please!. The airport in Burma in Mandalay is similar to what we have in Manila. I’m so sick.



His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
to the Sixteenth Congress of the Philippines
on the National Budget for Fiscal Year 2014

[July 23, 2013



Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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