Customs chief blames lean season for shortfall

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Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon offers a host of reasons for a P7.83-billion shortfall in targeted revenue collections in the first three months of the year.

But hope springs eternal.

The first quarter, he said on Sunday in a text message to the Inquirer, is “traditionally a lean season”—a period that “comes immediately after the high-demand Christmas season and the slowdown during the Chinese New Year.”

“In addition, stricter measures were implemented in March to target traders who undervalue and misdeclare, making those who play the ‘cat and mouse’ game to adopt a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) had set out to collect P76.3 billion during the period, but netted only P68.5 billion.

Calls for Biazon’s resignation were made earlier this month following a disclosure by Petron CEO Ramon Ang that massive smuggling of oil products had cost the government between P30 billion and P40 billion in lost revenues annually.

Commentators say the figure cited by Ang matched deficiencies of around P50 billion in annual collection targets.

Last week, Malacañang said Biazon continued to enjoy the trust of President Aquino, meaning the customs chief is not going to be sacked any time soon.

Reshuffle

In the meantime, the former Muntinlupa representative is considering re-jiggering his graft-infested bureau.

“The evaluation of our port personnel’s revenue collection performance will be included in the assessment of who will be moved in the next round of customs reshuffle,” Biazon said on Sunday.

He noted that “the movement of officials to assignments where they would be most effective is paying off.”

“We may have found the right chemistry among our officials to enable us to meet our collection target for 2013 although it remains to be seen as we progress through the year…. I won’t hesitate to undertake more rounds of reconfigurations should I find it necessary if only to ensure our meeting our collection target this year,” he said.

In March, the bureau failed to reach its target with collections of only P21.09 billion, or P6.91 billion short of its P28-billion goal for the 31-day period.

In a report, a copy of which was furnished the Inquirer, the bureau disclosed that during the first quarter, only five of its 17 collection districts met their revenue targets—the Subic Freeport, Clark International Airport,  Cagayan de Oro, Cebu and Iloilo.

A good year

The bureau blamed globalization, trade liberalization, and a sluggish international trade, as well as the strong peso, for the steady decline in its revenue collections.

Despite the shortfalls, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima cited the agency, saying “2012 will probably be remembered best as the year when the BOC’s public image began to improve dramatically as demonstrated by the results of the recent public trust ratings survey conducted by Social Weather Stations.”

The same year will also be remembered as “the period when its efforts to prosecute smugglers finally resulted in convictions,” Purisima said.

“And although 2012 revenue collections fell short of the annual target, the bureau still managed to produce a 9.3-percent increase with total collections reaching P289.85 billion compared to P265.1 billion in 2011,” he noted.

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