Palace says it’s up to Biazon to quit or not

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Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon’s fate rests in his own hands.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters in a briefing on Friday that calls for Biazon’s resignation should be best directed at the beleaguered head of the corruption-plagued Bureau of Customs (BOC).

As the sword of Damocles now hangs over the BOC chief’s head, Lacierda said it would be up to Biazon to decide whether to quit or not amid his perceived failure to curb the rampant smuggling of petroleum products under his watch.

“Maybe, Commissioner Biazon should answer that question himself,” said Lacierda, who said he had not received any directive from President Aquino demanding the resignation of Biazon, who is a member of the ruling Liberal Party.

Asked by the INQUIRER if it was prudent for the commissioner to spare the President from further troubles and allow the Chief Executive to personally revamp the whole agency, Lacierda said:

“I don’t want to answer that. It’s not something that I’m in a position to answer. If there’s any concern, that would be between the President and Commissioner Biazon.”

However, Lacierda hinted that an investigation, which was ordered by the President following revelations of widespread oil smuggling in economic zones and major ports in the country, would seek the prosecution of those “in cahoots” with oil smugglers.

A top Palace official said Mr. Aquino would deal with Biazon after the May polls. “Wait after the elections for Cabinet movements,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The President earlier said he would make “minor changes” in the Cabinet after the May 13 balloting to get rid of “nonperforming” appointees. He did not give details.

Complete overhaul

Contacted in Panama City, where he was attending a meeting of the World Customs Organization, Biazon agreed that his bureau needs a “complete overhaul.” He did not say he was going to quit.

Quoting his April 4 blog on the Internet, he pointed out “mere replacement of people involved [in the BOC’s Run After the Smugglers campaign], while necessary and significant, will not be the ultimate solution. A change in the system and the environment needs to happen, including a paradigm shift in how we view the role of the Bureau of Customs, not just in revenue collection and border security but in trade facilitation, as well.”

The BOC head noted that “commissioners come and go but the business remains the same as it has always been.”

Biazon said “the problem of oil smuggling is not one that just cropped up during my tenure as BOC commissioner in the past 18 months nor the Aquino administration from mid-2010 to the present.”

“It is a problem that hounds every Customs administration, not just in the Philippines but around the world. Even the most technologically advanced customs unit faces the same problem; the only difference is the magnitude of the problem and the dynamics of the system prevailing in each country. But sometimes, it is also a matter of perception by sectors concerned,” he said.

On Petron CEO Ramon Ang’s claim that the government had been losing P30 billion in revenues due to oil smuggling, he said: “It must be noted that his statement covers the period 2007 to 2011… As a consequence of that statement, some lawmakers and candidates in the forthcoming elections have issued their own commentaries on the matter, some with specific proposals and others with general allegations that nothing is being done.”

Fire Biazon

Party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño, a Makabayan senatorial candidate, dared the President to fire Biazon because the estimated P30-40 billion in foregone revenues annually, according to Petron head Ramon Ang, was “too huge.”

“Oil smuggling is too widespread and systemic to escape the attention and appropriate action from Biazon,” said Casiño in a statement.

“The President should fire BOC Commissioner Biazon for failure to stop, and worse, for allowing massive smuggling in oil under his watch if the administration is really serious in its pursuit of straight path,” the militant representative said.

Opposition senatorial candidate Mitos Magsaysay said that with three years into its term, the Aquino administration can no longer blame the oil smuggling problem on any other leadership and it must now finally ask its economic managers to account for their failure to resolve it.

“After three years on the job, they can’t say this is the fault of another administration. This is the fault of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and his agencies,” she said. “They haven’t done anything. The losses amounted to P40 billion to P50 billion. This means somebody had been sleeping on the job to benefit from oil smuggling or because somebody in the administration is earning from it.” With reports from Jerry E. Esplanada and Christine O. Avendaño

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