Belmonte pushes for Customs probe

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Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on Monday said he would push for the filing of charges against lawmakers found meddling in the operations of the Bureau of Customs, and at the same time said he wants to hold an inquiry to come up with ways to improve the embattled agency.

Belmonte also said customs officials should name the politicians who are supposedly acting as backers of personnel in the agency, as he denied being a supposed “padrino” (godfather) to his brother Ricardo Belmonte, a long-time official of the bureau.

The BOC was again under fire following President Aquino’s tirades during his fourth State of the Nation Address last week against supposedly “thick-faced” officials in the bureau who are allegedly involved in smuggling and other illegal activities.

According to Belmonte, he found it hard to believe that somebody in Congress would be so powerful as to be able to influence how things are done in BOC.

But if this takes place, officials, specifically Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim, who had spoken of political forces meddling in the bureau’s operations, should provide names, the Speaker said.

Belmonte added that Lim should detail what exactly the supposedly meddling politicians did so that charges could be filed against them.

He said some politicians may have just sent letters of recommendation for one officer or another, and this should not be considered alarming since lawmakers get numerous, persistent requests for recommendation letters.

“What I’m saying is, is there a transaction where a congressman had a hand or called him or something? That’s what we’re interested in,” he told reporters.

“We will have appropriate cases filed against the congressman if there is such an incident,” he added.

Belmonte also said Congress can help the bureau by holding an inquiry to determine how to improve the system within the BOC. He noted that there were a lot of well-meaning people in the bureau.

“I certainly would have no objection, I would even encourage an inquiry [in the House of Representatives] not so much to investigate anybody, but to think of new ways of running things there,” he told reporters in a press briefing.

He would like to hear, he said, from Customs officials about ideas on how to improve the agency which they may have been hard put to air in the past.

“If they cannot say them in their own offices, here under the aegis of the House and questioning of members, they should be open,” he said.

Belmonte also denied Monday claims that he had acted as backer to his brother Ricardo Belmonte, who has been with the BOC for over three decades.

He said he has never talked to anybody from the bureau since he entered government service in 1986, and hardly knows officials there.

He said Ricardo–an award-winning BOC collector who has served under eight commissioners–had actually suffered because of his political career.

The Speaker disclosed that when he decided to support the candidacy of Benigno Aquino III for the presidency in 2010, bolting the party of then President Arroyo, Ricardo was removed from his position in Cebu and banished to the Commissioner’s office and put “in charge of nothing.”

“If they had any cases against [Ricardo], that was a terrific time to file cases against him, because of [then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s] anger toward him at that time as a consequence of her anger toward me. He was just dragged into the matter,” he said.

Belmonte also said he had asked his brother about quitting the bureau. Ricardo was expected to submit a courtesy resignation, as requested by Commissioner Ruffy Biazon.

But the Speaker also said his brother had expressed his desire to complete his tenure at the BOC, since he is set to retire in six months. Having served the BOC for 34 years, Ricardo believes he is entitled to a regular retirement, Belmonte added.

Related Stories:

BOC seizes P5-M semi-submarine

12 collectors heed Biazon’s order to step down

Biazon, Customs execs inspect P19-M worth of smuggled goods

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