MANILA, Philippines — Several Bureau of Customs district collectors have complied with the directive of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon to vacate their posts in preparation for a reassignment in the first round of a wide-ranging reform in the agency.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, at least 12 collectors from various ports and subports in the country submitted their letters of relinquishment to Biazon.
The BOC has 17 major port collectors and 37 subport collectors nationwide.
Biazon on Friday issued a memorandum directing the customs officials to vacate their current assignments or designation in writing on or before Monday.
One of those who complied was Port of Manila collector Rogel Gatchalian, one of the so-called “Three Kings” at the bureau said to be politically well-connected, who heads the three Metro Manila revenue districts and who reportedly does not want to be removed or reassigned elsewhere.
“This is to give the commissioner a free hand to decide… and to show that I’m not clinging to my post,” Gatchalian said in a text message to reporters.
Gatchalian also denied that he had the backing of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
Gatchalian, who had been in his post for three years, said he wanted “to disprove the allegation that Senator Enrile is meddling with the affairs in the bureau in my favor.”
The two other so-called “kings” of the bureau are Ricardo Belmonte, younger brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and customs collector at the Manila International Container Port, and Carlos So, collector at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Gatchalian, Belmonte and So were not included in the first major revamp of district collectors undertaken by Biazon early this year despite the failure of their districts to meet revenue targets last year and in the first five months of 2013.
Belmonte is said to be backed by his brother, and So by the influential Iglesia ni Cristo.
Belmonte has yet to file his letter of relinquishment but said in an interview on Friday he was willing to do so.
“We are always ready for a revamp. At anytime that the commissioner says you go here, we follow,” he said, adding that the upcoming reshuffle of bureau officials was an “ordinary thing.”
Biazon downplayed the perceived power and influence of the “Three Kings.”
“There are 17 kings (in Customs), not three. That is figurative speech. There are 17 collection districts, 17 kings and subkings. They are expected to submit their letters by Monday. If not, I will still carry out the reassignments,” Biazon said.
“I don’t acknowledge or recognize kings; they’re collectors under the authority of the commissioner. If there were those who were not included in the previous reshuffle, it was because it was my discretion and not because somebody imposed it on me. I am the commissioner of Customs, I have the authority, I have the discretion and I exercise that discretion,” he said.
Other district collectors who relinquished their posts were Edward James Dy Buco, Port of Davao; Ronnie Silvestre, Port of Clark; Adelina Molina, Port of Subic; Edward Dela Cuesta, Port of Cebu; Oswaldo Geli, Port of Surigao ; and Darwisha Shuck, Port of Zamboanga.
“We have to follow the order. It is a lawful and a valid order,” Dela Cuestsa said.
Subport collectors Noah Dimaporo (Harbour Center), Jemima Sy-Flores (North Harbor), Josefa Villasenor (Nasipit Port in Agusan del Norte), Pendatun Alim (Dadiangas Port in General Santos City), and Pedro Quiñones (Parang Port in Maguindanao) have also submitted their letters of relinquishment to Biazon.
Cagayan de Oro Port district collector Lourdes Mangaoang have yet to submit her letter but signified her intention to vacate her post.
Biazon’s directive came following a stinging public rebuke from President Benigno Aquino III in his State of the Nation Address on July 22.
Biazon said the revamp of district collectors was just the first round of the process of reassignments to be implemented in the agency.
He said he would submit his recommendations on which collectors would be retained and which ones would be replaced “subject to the approval of the Department of Finance”.
“The replacements are subject to the approval of the DOF. Under the law, I may designate the person to be assigned to a particular post but it has to be approved by the secretary of finance,” he said.
Biazon also called on unidentified “powerful forces” outside the bureau not to interfere in the revamp.