Lacson as anti-oil smuggling czar urged; Biazon hits demolition job

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Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon is doing a good job as the country’s top duties collector but he could use the help of a former law enforcer in cleaning up an agency marked by widespread corruption.

Party mate and former Sen. Jamby Madrigal, a Liberal Party member running under the Team PNoy coalition, said the expertise of former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and soon-to-be former lawmaker Sen. Panfilo Lacson could come in handy for Biazon, who has admitted the lack of personnel in stepping up the drive against oil smuggling.

“I think we should have a separate agency to concentrate on oil smuggling, that’s quite a task,” Madrigal told reporters following the provincial sorties of the administration coalition.

“What I’m saying is Commissioner Biazon has been doing a good job, but I think we should have one agency that is really looking only at oil smuggling. Ping Lacson is a good choice for a separate agency against a specific area where smuggling is very rampant,” Madrigal added.

Waiting job

Lacson, who is credited for cleaning up the PNP when he headed the agency in the Estrada administration, is about to wind up his second consecutive term as senator.

President Aquino and Lacson have both confirmed that a job in the executive branch is waiting for the senator after his term ends in June.

Lacson said it was an interesting job that could cause him to have more enemies.

“Ping Lacson would be a good choice to counter a lot of areas where corruption is very rampant. The President has been in office for only three years, which is too short to suppress corruption,” Madrigal said.

Biazon, who is still in Panama City where he is attending a World Customs Organization conference, said he is not quitting his post even if there is a concerted effort to discredit him.

“I’ve been in politics long enough to know when a demolition job is being done,” he told the Inquirer in a text message. “I have ruffled the feathers of enough people with interests to give them a motive to do these attacks.”

Comes with the job

“When I accepted this job, it was one of the realities that I would be the target of vicious attacks precisely because this job entails going against people who will try to bring the commissioner down because they want the position for themselves,” said the former Muntinlupa City legislator, who did not name his detractors.

Another top customs official, however, blamed the agency’s failure to meet its assigned revenue targets for Biazon’s current woes.

On Wednesday, Malacañang said it was standing by Biazon despite reports of massive smuggling of petroleum products into the country, which oil industry leaders claim is costing the government in foregone revenues.

Petron chair and CEO Ramon Ang disclosed earlier this week that between P30 billion and P40 billion in government revenues is lost annually as one in every three liters of gasoline and diesel is smuggled into the country.

Shell executive Edgar Chua confirmed Ang’s story, adding that there are two main ways to smuggle fuel into the country—through undervaluation of oil shipments and through the filling of smaller vessels from an oil tanker out at sea.

Minor changes

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Biazon continues to enjoy the trust of President Aquino, who earlier said he would make “minor changes” in the Cabinet after the midterm polls to get rid of “nonperforming” appointees.

A top Palace official said the President would deal with Biazon after the May elections.

Biazon, who is scheduled to return to Manila next Tuesday, agreed that his bureau needs a “complete overhaul.”

In his April 4 blog, he pointed out the “mere replacement of people involved in the customs’ 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.”

Worldwide

He pointed out that “the problem of oil smuggling is not one that just cropped up during my tenure as customs 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,” Biazon said.

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