DAVAO CITY—An anticorruption group based in this city, which has been helping a local businessman pursue charges against a former port collector here, urged President Aquino to take the helm of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to combat rampant corruption at the agency.
It was Aquino himself, during his State of the Nation Address on July 22, who brought up the charges against many customs officials and blamed them as part of the reasons for the country’s fiscal problems.
“Our call is that for the President to take over the Bureau of Customs for at least six months. He should be the one facilitating the transformation of the agency,” Jesuit priest Fr. Alberto Alejo said on behalf of Ehem!, an anticorruption group here.
While the President lambasted corruption at the customs bureau, he, however, refused to accept the resignation of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, drawing criticisms from several groups.
Biazon has been blamed for continued corruption at the customs bureau.
Alejo formed Ehem! during pardoned plunder convict Joseph Estrada’s short-lived tenure as President. The group has been very active against corruption here and is also one of the forces behind the legal battle put up by businessman Rodolfo Reta against former Davao port collector Nerio Castigador.
In November 2012, the Ombudsman ordered Castigador’s dismissal from service for preventing Reta from operating a BOC-accredited X-ray facility.
Ehem! said Reta was harassed by customs officials for not allowing container vans from being brought out of Sasa Wharf without going through an X-ray procedure even if these have been cleared by customs people.
Reta’s persistence paid off when 40 container vans shipped in from Thailand— each loaded with 320 bags of smuggled rice—were intercepted.
The cargoes were misdeclared as construction materials.
Such cases, Aquino said in his Sona, brought at least P200 billion in losses to the government.
Alejo lauded Aquino’s stance against corruption but added that the President should listen to what Ehem! and other civil society groups have been saying from the start—a total revamp of the BOC and other revenue-generating agencies is the only solution to corruption in these offices.
“We were right [all along] and it is about time that he must become creative on what can be done,” he said.
Alejo said that years after the Castigador issue, corruption is still rampant at the customs district office here.
One indication, he said, is that the three X-ray machines put up here are hardly being used. Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao