No sacred cows in Customs reforms—Palace

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Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda: No sacred cows

MANILA, Philippines—There will be no “sacred cows” in the “wide-ranging reform” that President Aquino will be implementing soon at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Without disclosing any details of these planned reforms, Malacañang on Thursday said that the “systemic corruption” at the BOC would be dealt with regardless of the identities of the personalities involved.

“We are implementing a wide-ranging reform in the Customs. All your concerns will be answered once we announce the reforms,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing.

“Let’s wait for the reforms to happen, and it’s going to happen soon,” he said.

Lacierda, however, denied that Aquino had accepted the resignation of Danilo Lim, the customs deputy commissioner for the Intelligence Group, and Juan Lorenzo Tañada, the deputy commissioner for the Internal Administration Group.

The two offered their resignations in order to give the President a free hand in revamping the BOC, after the President singled out the incompetence and corrupt activities of customs personnel in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) last Monday.

Biazon’s offer

Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon immediately sent a text message to the President after the Sona, offering his resignation, but he said. Aquino had assured him of his continued confidence.

Lim and Tañada followed suit the next day, but Lacierda said that as of Thursday there was no word yet on whether the President had accepted their offers to resign.

The Palace was also silent on whether Deputy Commissioners Horacio Suansing (enforcement) and Prudencio Reyes (assessment and operation), and BOC Director George Aliño (enforcement security service) had resigned.

Lacierda said Lim and Tañada had obviously offered their resignations in response to what the President said in his Sona.

He could not say whether Lim would be placed in another post that would best suit his reformist agenda.

 

Up to the President

“I cannot speculate on any other action because (I don’t know) what their motivation was,” said Lacierda.

He also said he had no knowledge of Lim’s claim that he had offered to resign six times.

“Whatever his (Lim’s) statements, whatever insinuations that came out of his statement, I think all that will be resolved when the reforms are implemented. It’s up to the President. We will let you know. But it was a very emphatic statement in the Sona, so action is being done, as we speak,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tañada, the other deputy commissioner who offered to resign, said he believes that it may take at least 12 years, or the term of office of two administrations, to rid the customs bureau of corruption.

“I can see that the problem really runs deep in the system,” he said.

“This cannot be resolved within three years,” Tañada said in Filipino.

He said it would take two administrations, “two presidents who have the same mindset because right after President Aquino’s term, if his successor has a different mindset, we’ll only get back to square one. I think 12 years is just the minimum.”

Customs syndicates

 

Tañada admitted at a press briefing last Wednesday that the agency’s leadership has had a hard time going after the syndicates operating at the BOC.

He said he himself had received calls from politicians and other politically influential groups asking for various favors.

He declined to name names but he said many of these callers were “Congress people” asking for various favors.

In a radio interview on Thursday, Tañada said those who have been calling him included senators, congressmen and others claiming to be relatives of government officials. He said Cabinet secretaries would call, but only to say hello.

“The ones who usually call are the senators. There are also some congressmen and people posing as relatives of high government officials,” he said.

Powerful forces

With regard to the entry of shipments, it was usually Lim who received calls relating to this, he said.

Lim, the customs intelligence chief, earlier said that “powerful forces” were making it difficult for the agency’s officials to implement much-needed reforms.

Tañada said a major problem is the discretion given to customs employees to evaluate shipments.

He said many customs personnel are tempted to accept bribes due to their meager salaries.

“Once we limit that discretion given to employees assigned at the front lines, corruption will be addressed to a great degree,” he said.

Senators and congressmen from both administration and opposition on Thursday called on Lim and Tañada to identify the powerful individuals that wield influence over the interception of smuggled goods and personnel movement in the bureau.

“I urge Danny Lim to name those powerful … politicians, who are intervening at the [Bureau of Customs],” said minority Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, adding that he would be open to an inquiry into the matter by the Senate.

“They should name names. Otherwise, we will all be subject to suspicion. I, for one, have nothing to do with the BOC,” said Sen. Vicente Sotto III, the deputy minority leader.

Sen. Francis Escudero, the chair of the Senate committee on finance, said those making the allegations shouldn’t “simply mention senators or congressmen in general.”

“Let the axe fall where it may,” he said.—With Norman Bordadora

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