3 p.m. Friday meetings still a Customs habit, says LacsonBy Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The so-called Friday “three o’clock habit” at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) continues during the watch of Commissioner Rufino Biazon and so do the graft activities of its corrupt officials and personnel, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Thursday.
Lacson was referring to the alleged weekly meeting among customs employees and importers where multimillion-peso bribes are given and divided up.
The continuation of this activity, the senator said, was an indication that customs reforms continued to be inutile.
The lawmaker made the remark in the middle of a Senate inquiry into rice smuggling through the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
“Smuggling would never happen if there’s no collusion with somebody from the inside, whether it’s a middle-level official of the bureau or all the way up,” Lacson said during the weekly news forum in the Senate.
“I have huge faith in Commissioner Biazon. I know him personally and I know he won’t involve himself in corruption, but that’s not enough. The leader also has to have a strong political will to implement what he wants to in the bureau,” he said.
The Senate committee on agriculture on Wednesday was told of an alleged connivance among certain officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), a freeport zone locator and an Indian rice supplier in an attempt to smuggle into the country almost half-a-billion pesos worth of Indian rice.
The BOC has confiscated the shipment of more than 420,000 bags of rice and Biazon said the attempted smuggling wouldn’t have been halted without the cooperation of other SBMA officials.
Lacson indicated that those who were involved in smuggling in previous administrations were the same people doing the smuggling today.
“They’re the same people. There are syndicates and groups but you can count them with your fingers. Their specialty is to smuggle and peddle influence at the customs bureau,” Lacson said.
Lacson wants Vicente “Bong” Cuevas, whose name came up during the Senate inquiry, to appear at the next Senate hearing into the rice smuggling “so we can start an in-depth investigation wherein those who are involved could face charges.”
“I know [Biazon is] trying his best but if you’re coming in as an outsider, those who’ve been there a long time would try you and would try to pull a fast one on you,” Lacson said.
“The problem of the BOC commissioner is if he’s too strict, if he implements a shock-and-awe tactic, collections might suffer,” he said.
Lacson said if customs regulations were implemented too strictly, importers might just stop bringing in goods from abroad.